November 1, 2013

Doris Kearns Goodwin tackles era of reforms in ‘Bully Pulpit’

The popular historian began with the idea of writing about Theodore Roosevelt.

By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press

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Author Doris Kearns Goodwin poses for a portrait outside at her home in Concord, Mass. Goodwin’s latest book,”The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” will be released on Nov. 5.

The Associated Press

Goodwin notes that when she was studying for a Ph.D. in government at Harvard, a professor there told her that women were more likely to drop out before they completed their work and should “realize that we were taking the place of a man who would go on in the profession.” But she was encouraged by other academics and by the example of “Guns of August” author Barbara Tuchman, who wrote political and military history. Goodwin also was influenced by Tuchman’s belief that “you have to tell a story from beginning to middle to end and pretend you don’t know how it turns out, because you can only know what people at the time know.”

Stacy Schiff, whose books include a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera, and a biography of Benjamin Franklin during his years in Paris, says Goodwin continues a tradition that begins with Catherine Drinker Bowen and Tuchman.

“Both in her existence and her example, she partly paved the way, at least for me,” Schiff wrote in a recent email. She said Goodwin’s book “No Ordinary Time,” an expansive narrative about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II, “was on my shelf – talisman and high bar more than guide – when I wrote ‘Vera.’ I’m not sure I was thinking of DKG when I went to France with Ben Franklin, but I don’t know that I ever would have got to that point without her.”

Born Doris Kearns in Brooklyn in 1943, she first practiced her narrative skills through another traditionally male subject, baseball. As she wrote in her memoir “Wait Till Next Year,” she relayed the results of Brooklyn Dodgers games to her father, learning the valuable lesson not to give away the result until the end. Goodwin would later become the first female reporter allowed in the Boston Red Sox’ locker room.

She had considered being a journalist, or a political activist, but through a fellowship ended up in the White House during the administration of Lyndon Johnson, whose removal from office she had advocated because of the Vietnam War.

His displeasure with the young Ivy Leaguer was only temporary. Goodwin became a presidential aide, helped with his memoirs and wrote a book about him, “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream,” published in 1977.

“No Ordinary Time,” a critical breakthrough, won the Pulitzer in 1995.

“What Doris does is to take figures who readers thought they knew and find an interesting new angle,” Wilentz says, citing “No Ordinary Time” as the first major joint biography of the Roosevelts.

“Team of Rivals, one of the most talked about books of the past decade, raised and rescued her stature. The book was her first since she acknowledged lifting extensive material from other sources for “The Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds,” a 1987 best seller that ended up being withdrawn (Goodwin said in 2002 that she would write a new edition, but still has no plans to do so. Her web site,, provides links to used copies).

But “Team of Rivals” was untouched by scandal, praised by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian, James McPherson, and awarded the Lincoln Prize.

“She really is superb at getting inside the minds and moods of the principal individuals she’s writing about,” McPherson told the AP.

“Doris set a new bar on history writing with ‘Team of Rivals,”’ says Lincoln historian Harold Holzer. “It’s not only original, brilliantly researched and distilled, but so elegantly written, a genuine page-turner, which is important when you write as many pages as Doris does. She’s given new life – a second wind, really – to Lincoln studies.”

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