Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Author Spotlight: Doris Kearns Goodwin

By Jeff Burns

Doris Kearns Goodwin has become one of the go-to presidential historians.  You can see her as a talking head in many documentaries and on news shows whenever an historical presidential perspective is called for.  If you’re looking for a thorough – sometimes too thorough – presidential biography, you should consider her work.

Her first major work, now out of print, was about a subject that was very close to her.  Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream presents a very intimate portrait of Johnson.  Goodwin actually became a close confidante of LBJ when she went to work as a White House staffer fresh out of college.  She followed that up with The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.

Team of Rivals is familiar to many people since it was the basis of the Spielberg film Lincoln.  While it’s not strictly a biography of Abraham Lincoln, it’s more of a study- a very detailed study – of Lincoln the politician.  As homespun and folksy as Lincoln was, he was perhaps the most politically gifted and astute man ever to be president.  His genius  and greatness is reflected in the men that he chose to serve as his cabinet, men who not only weren’t fans but who also were in many ways his biggest rivals and critics.  From the book, readers learn a lot about these men and about vigorous debate with the cabinet and Congress leading to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize for No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Individually, the Roosevelts are sure to rank near the top of any list of influential and important Americans, but, as a couple, they have few peers.  They may be the greatest power couple in American history, and people are fascinated not only by their accomplishments, but by the relationship itself.  Goodwin’s book takes the reader deep into that relationship while painting a vivid picture of World War II America.

The Bully Pulpit, her latest book, is in its own way the story of another power couple, Theodore Roosevelt and his protégé, successor, and eventual rival, William Howard Taft.  At nearly 1,000 pages, it’s a tome worthy of these two heavyweights (pun intended), strong biographies of both men and an insightful and detailed look at the powerful friendship and affection that they shared, until the election of 1912, when their rivalry became just as powerful.

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