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Leadership in Turbulent Times


Leadership in Turbulent Times

How appropriate is the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book? It is impossible, given the current political climate, to see this examination of how four of our greatest presidents dealt with life-altering national issues and not compare them to the man who currently holds that high office.

Goodwin --- a Pulitzer Prize winner whose previous work includes LYNDON JOHNSON AND THE AMERICAN DREAM; TEAM OF RIVALS: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; and, one of my favorites, WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR, her memoir of growing up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan --- chooses Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson as her subjects, showing how each man decided early in life that he wanted to make a difference and have an impact on his country, not for self-serving purposes but out of a desire to improve the lives of his fellow citizens.

They came at it from different circumstances. Lincoln was the ultimate self-made man, rising from nothing --- no money or formal education --- to helm the United States through its most difficult domestic time. The Roosevelts were, in a manner of speaking, to the manor born, growing up in high-brow New York society amid loving families (Lincoln lost his mother in childhood and famously did not get along with his father). Johnson was a bit in the middle, growing up with attentive parents in a mostly modest environment in Texas, slowly working his way up the political ladder.

" important volume in the area of statesmanship that should be required reading."

In explaining the differences among her first three subjects’ foray into politics, Goodwin writes, “[W]hile Abraham Lincoln took the initiative on his own to run for his first elective office and Theodore put himself in a position to gain the nomination by mingling with politicians at Morton Hall, Franklin Roosevelt was simply chosen to run.”

Naturally, there is no such thing as smooth sailing in politics. Each member of the quartet faced his share of adversity. Lincoln suffered from bouts of melancholy, which caused his friends to worry about his safety. Theodore lost his mother and his wife --- the latter shortly after she gave birth to their first child --- on the same day. He fled to the west with his grief, where that experience helped mold him into the strong and self-assured man he became. As an adult, FDR was afflicted with polio but did not let that define him. Johnson, who took over the presidency under tragic circumstances, had to deal with an unpopular war that was “bequeathed” to him.

After her expository chapters, Goodwin launches into what might be described as a how-to for crisis management. Picking one key event for each president --- the Emancipation Proclamation for Lincoln; the National Coal Strike of 1902 for TR; the first days of the Great Depression for FDR; and the Civil Rights Act for Johnson --- she offers brief credos for dealing with the various issues that each man faced and goes into great detail on how they handled the situation. The Lincolns, the Roosevelts and Johnson all managed to overcome these crises by adhering to these tenets, which included, among other things, patience, empathy and a willingness to listen, as well as the ability to put ego aside and not think that they alone held the answers.

Goodwin concludes with a passage praising Lincoln, but the attributes listed would apply to the others as well: “Kindness, empathy, humor, humility, passion, and ambition all marked him from the start. But he grew, and continued to grow, into a leader who became so powerfully fused with the problems tearing his country apart that his desire to lead and his need to serve coalesced into a single indomitable force. That force has not only enriched subsequent leaders but has provided our people with a moral compass to guide us. Such leadership offers us humanity, purpose, and wisdom, not in turbulent times alone, but also in our everyday lives.”

LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES might come too late to read ahead of the midterm election, but it is an important volume in the area of statesmanship that should be required reading.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on November 2, 2018

Leadership in Turbulent Times
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2018
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1476795924
  • ISBN-13: 9781476795928