My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.
The amount of research that had to go into Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book about the Lincoln cabinet is astounding to even think about. The papers and correspondence of Lincoln, Chase, Seward, and Bates is probably enough pure reading material for a decade; that Goodwin is able to come away from it with a grasp of how to whittle it down to a 760-page book (with nearly 200 pages of endnotes and indexes) is extraordinary.
Where the research really pays off is in her understanding of the people. Each one emerges as a fully-drawn person, full of the foibles and contradictions you encounter in such people in real life. Aside from Lincoln, who stands astride this novel like a Colossus, the most interesting such person to me was Salmon P. Chase, who comes off as incredibly moral and incredibly venial at the same time. Devoutly religious but blindly ambitious, willing to sell out friends, president, and party if the occasion demands it while also having unbending abolitionist principles, he is one of the more interesting constructions in the book.
Goodwin makes the case that the secret to Lincoln’s great political gifts lay in his storytelling abilities, which sharpened both his memory and gift for analogy. She demonstrates an equally-gifted mind for anecdote here, finding small stories here and there that stick in the memory. I still can’t stop thinking about how the day Lincoln left Springfield for Washington was the last time he ever saw the city where he had lived most of his life. Small details like these, against the vast historical study she has made, helped give me a better understanding of Lincoln and his time than I had before.
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