LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a year now. You know how it is…new books kept grabbing my attention or library holds come in or Book of the Month is asking me to choose. And now that I am reviewing books for publishers, I have a steady stream of books showing up at my door, asking to be read. (NO complaints from me!)

But as a result, this book has kept being pushed back month to month.

Thanks to Whitney and her Unread Book Challenge I was encouraged to read a ‘gifted book’ for February and I knew exactly which one I would pick. Dad sent this to me last year after seeing Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author, Doris Kearns Goodwin in Kansas City. I feel very lucky to have a signed copy of one of her books.

It was completely accidental (unless my subconscious mind got the best of me) that I read LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES (2018) during the 2020 presidential primary season and California’s primary voting as a part of Super Tuesday. It’s been particularly interesting to compare the four men highlighted in this book – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson – with our own political environment in 2020. Sure, there were times that made me cringe and dream for a more noble and respectful political world but I was surprised by the level of relief I found while reading it. There have been many difficult, trying and turbulent times in our country’s young history. That thought kept coming to me again and again. We’re not new to this discourse. I DEEPLY wish it was a civil discourse we were having today, but plotting and underhanded pundits and news source propaganda is nothing new. Kearns explores how each man recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others.

At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

Briefly, here are the corresponding turbulent times for each president:

  • Abraham Lincoln – the splintering of America during and after the Civil War
  • Teddy Roosevelt – took office following the assassination of President McKinley and dealt with the coal strike, he curbed many monopolies (such as the railroad), constructed the Panama Canal and he brought conservation awareness to the forefront
  • Franklin Roosevelt – the disparity and bank crises following the Great Depression
  • Lyndon Johnson – took office following the assassination of President Kennedy and faced down the opposition and fracturing of America surrounding civil rights

Goodwin develops each president fully. Their personal background (which always influences our biases), their early political career and the specific difficulty they had in their presidency that greatly influenced the United States’ trajectory.

The banking crisis, admittedly, was a little over my head. Or…a LOT over my head at times. But she mixed the economic details easily with the personal stories that kept me engaged.

This book deals with the guiding principles of leadership in any field. It would make an excellent gift for a graduating student but also appeals to anyone interested in character development, dealing with failures and rising above the noise of popular opinion to make measured and enduring decisions for the betterment of the human race.

I’ll end with one such example – the skill noted in Lincoln’s emotional intelligence. His empathy, humility, consistency, self-awareness, self-discipline and generosity of spirit. “So long as I have been here,” Lincoln maintained, “I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.” There was no room for mean-spirited behavior, for grudges or personal resentments. He welcomed arguments within the Cabinet but would be “greatly pained,” he warned them, if he found his colleagues attacking one another in public. “Such sniping would be a wrong to me and much worse, a wrong to the country.”

 

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