Here's my first try at a posting. I was given this book by Mark (good choice!) on my last work day at Ford. I've read other books about Lincoln and thought the view of the times through the lives of his cabinet members would make for a good read. Wow, what an understatement!
Doris Kearns Goodwin weaves the life stories of the major political figures that came to form the Republican Party into a culminating event at the party convention preceding the 1860 presidential election. By the time Lincoln selects his cabinet from all those disperate men in the midst of the disintigrating union, the book is about half done. The remainder of the 754 pages moves through the war and the aftermath of Lincoln's death.
As is the case with all good histories, you get to know enough about the people and the times to make comparisons to today. There are major differences from today in how policy was publically discussed, since political debates were a major source of entertainment and important speeches were printed in partisan papers throughout the country. However, the parocial bickering and nasty personal attacks of the day appear to be more mean spirited and inaccurate than anything Rush Limbaugh or Fox News doles out today.
The author gives a sense that you've discovered the essense of each important figure, at least as it relates to their political actions before and after the election and the war. Most important for me was how Lincoln handled these men and everyone else with whom he came into contact. He had about 1 1/2 years of "in class" education with everything else coming from a continual reading of books on every subject imaginable. For an example, he taught himself geometry by working out difficult proofs while practicing law in Springfield. For almost everyone who came into contact with him, except for those blinded by their own egos, the initial impression was of an affable country bumpkin and ended with the thought that he was perhaps one of the most able, complex and decent men to ever have held that, or any other, office.
Goodwin has a very clear, logical and engaging writing style. If you have the time, it will draw you into the story for large periods of time. Even if you read like I do sometimes, with the TV on and doing a puzzle, you still can make steady progress and enjoy the process a great deal.