Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

How to Run a Country: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Fred Kobrick


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

10-Week Course

Feb. 27 - May 7. No Class April 23.


Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to have been the greatest American president, yet Lincoln’s chances of even winning the Republican nomination—let alone the presidency—had been considered a “long shot.” Facing a country that was bitterly split by ideology, particularly the profoundly divisive issue of slavery, Lincoln wanted to put together the strongest cabinet possible. He made unconventional choices for its membership by including people who not only opposed him, but also each other. The story of how Abraham Lincoln put together this cabinet of rivals and how it functioned through insurrections and then a civil war, is told by renowned presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in one of the greatest political books of all time. We will read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, to glean insights into how Lincoln brought together and led this group, all of whom had far more education than he, to form a cabinet to help him win a war and preserve the Union. His leadership combined incredible empathy and steadfast adherence to moral principles, exemplified, for example, by going out to meet with and learn from soldiers after the Union lost the Battle of Bull Run, so he could help the army avoid the same mistakes in the future. Termed “the best manual on how to run a country,” this book invites comparisons to our country today, and is one of the greatest studies of leadership that works. 

Group Leadership Style

More facilitated discussion than lecture.

Course Materials

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Preparation Time

2-3 hours per week. 


Fred Kobrick has degrees in Economics, Boston University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He managed investment funds, one of which was one of the top 5 performers in the country for 15 years, retired and taught graduate school, then has taught 14 years at BOLLI. Courses include a global history of cotton, China foreign policy, China vs America, Manifest Destiny, Presidents of War, 1917-1921 threats to American Democracy (American Midnight), and more.