Doris Kearns Goodwin (live!) on how great presidents are made

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If you’ve got a question, Doris Kearns Goodwin has a charming, insightful, well-told presidential anecdote for you. Actually, a couple of them.

I interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian live onstage for the release of her new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, and left the building slightly in awe: Some people are truly masterful storytellers, and Goodwin is one of them.

In the book, Goodwin examines how Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson became the men we remember. She focuses, in particular, on the periods of suffering that softened them, eras that preceded the soaring leadership etched into history.

Threaded through the book’s pages, then, is a lot of pain, a lot of mental illness, a lot of uncertainty. That opened space for a conversation about the recurrent link between the presidency and mental illness, about how Goodwin researches the personal lives of presidents, about who the best analogues to our current president may be, about how history will have to be researched and written differently in an age when few write letters but text constantly.

Goodwin makes the humanity of our past vivid enough that it is able to provide ballast, just for a moment, to the inhumanity of our present. Enjoy!

Recommended books:

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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