Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses her book, “Leadership In Turbulent Times”, at a Politics and Prose event at Sixth and I on 10/18/18.
Washington Post Review (excerpt)
Doris Kearns Goodwin has spent much of her professional life grappling with the character of four American presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Beginning with a White House fellowship at the end of the Johnson administration, which accorded her direct personal access to the president until the end of his life, she has written about these leaders in insightful books over 40 years. She has examined each president in detailed works that situate them in their historically momentous times, all while digging into their personal motivations and webs of relationships with family, advisers, adversaries and friends. The books (“Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream,” “No Ordinary Time,” “Team of Rivals” and “The Bully Pulpit”) are all as worthy of reading today as when they were published.
Her title echoing the truth of the maxim attributed to the Latin writer Publilius Syrus — “anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm” — Goodwin circles back through her understanding of the four presidents in “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” trying to extract the basic lessons that enabled each to deal with major crises in their personal lives and in the life of their country. No one is better suited than Goodwin to make the effort, and yet her book makes plain how hard it is to capture the essence of leadership, at least when the question is approached head-on.AD
The four leaders make an interesting quartet. Each assumed office in crisis — LBJ and Teddy upon the assassination of a president, Lincoln at the collapse of the Union, FDR at the collapse of the economy. None had a honeymoon period to get up to speed on the massive demands placed upon them. Lincoln and FDR died in office, and their deaths froze their reputations in a state of reverence that might have altered slightly had they lived. Compare that with the brief and wistful retirement years of LBJ, recognizing that his far-reaching domestic policy advances were publicly eclipsed by his prosecution of the Vietnam War, or the frantic post-presidency of Teddy, unable to bear living out of the limelight and possibly realizing late in life, with the death of his son Quentin in World War I, that his jingoistic glorification of war was hollow and vain. The contrast between the presidents who died in office and those who lived calls to mind A.E. Housman’s poetic observation: “Smart lad, to slip betimes away / from fields where glory does not stay.”
Goodwin’s effort to turn lessons of the four presidents from her years of scholarship into a book-length essay on leadership traits follows a basic arc. Part I explores the upbringing and emergence of ambition in each leader: the adversity of Lincoln’s boyhood and his self-fashioning into a frontier lawyer and Whig political leader, the privilege and warm family love experienced by the two Roosevelts and their surprising entrance into the hurly-burly world of New York state politics, LBJ’s early fascination with retail politics accompanying his father and grandfather in the Texas Hill Country and his quick rise as an ambitious young New Dealer. Continue reading at the Washington Post review.