With Leadership: In Turbulent Times, pre-eminent presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin turns her perceptive lens to a question on the minds of many Americans these days: What is leadership?
But the “turbulent times” of the title are not, in fact, our own. Instead, Goodwin examines the leadership styles and challenges facing four previous United States presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Goodwin has written about these men in previous works, but her approach here uncovers new insights and understanding—both for readers and for herself. “After five decades of studying presidential history, examining these four men through the lens of leadership allowed me to discover so many new things about them that I felt as if I was meeting them for the first time,” Goodwin reflects.
Readers will share that sense of discovery. Goodwin divides her study into three thematic areas: Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership; Adversity and Growth; and The Leader and the Times: How They Led. Within these sections, she devotes a chapter to each president. These chapters are chronological, allowing the reader to better appreciate and understand the historical forces that shaped the four presidents’ growth and decisions.
In the final section, Goodwin examines different kinds of leadership: transformational, crisis management, turnaround and visionary. Readers follow Lincoln as he grapples with the Emancipation Proclamation, Teddy Roosevelt as he deals with the coal strike of 1902, FDR through the first hundred days of his presidency in 1933 and Johnson as he approaches civil rights.
In an epilogue titled “On Death and Remembrance,” Goodwin reflects on the final days of each president and their legacies for us today. With Leadership, Pulitzer Prize winner Goodwin cements her reputation as a scholar with a remarkable ability to bring the complexities of our past to life for everyday readers. It’s a welcome gift indeed.
This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.