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If you like Doris Kearns Goodwin's story, you might also like:
Stephen Ambrose,
David Herbert Donald,
Shelby Foote,
David McCullough,
Peggy Noonan
and Neil Sheehan

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Justice & Citizenship
Freedom and Justice

Doris Kearns Goodwin's recommended reading: Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

Related Links:
NPR Interview

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Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Doris Kearns Goodwin Interview (page: 2 / 9)

Pulitzer Prize for History

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  Doris Kearns Goodwin

What are some of the qualities that you learned he had? Was there something you found particularly memorable about the president?

Doris Kearns Goodwin Interview Photo
Doris Kearns Goodwin: In a funny way, the memories that I took away from Lyndon Johnson were not so much of the qualities the made him a good leader. I did see some parts of that, the ability to convince anybody to do anything he wanted them to, a belief in himself, a courage at some level, especially on civil rights. I think the one thing he'll be positively remembered for was that he was responsible for the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Open Housing Act. He was a southerner, but at some point, he somehow came to believe that this was his destiny, to do something for black Americans. That part of him was the best part. But...

The part I remember most is that the man (LBJ) I saw in those last years, in his retirement, was really a desolate man, because he was out of power, had absolutely no interest to keep him going once the presidency was gone. So that retirement was almost like a little death for him. He'd wake up in the morning and really not even know how to get through the days. And I think what it convinced me of more than anything was that kind of success, bought at that price, isn't worth it, unless you have other things to balance you. He had no hobbies, no interest in sports. His family loved him, but they couldn't fill the hole in him that he needed to be filled by the applause of millions. So he almost willed himself to die in those last years.

He hardly ever left the ranch. The only comfort he got was having staff meetings in the morning, just as he used to in the White House. But instead of telling people which bills we're going to get through committee on the Hill that day, it would be but rather how many eggs he hoped would be laid on the ranch that day, or how many people he wanted to visit the LBJ Library.

He so wanted more people to go through the Johnson Library than were going through the Kennedy Library in Boston that, after a while, he used to have them -- free doughnuts, coffee, anything to get them in there. And after a while the librarians -- knowing how much it mattered to him -- used to have a clicker. So they would click themselves in and out over and over again, just to give him an escalated count at the end of the week. So I think the experience taught me, more than anything, that if your ambition comes at the price of such an unbalanced life, that there's nothing else that gives you comfort but success, it's not worth it. And to see that at 23 years old was an incredibly invaluable lesson to me, because I think at that time, you think work is the most important thing in your life, and fame and success are what you're dreaming of. Yet to be able to know that if it's bought at that high a price, as I said, it's not worth it. I will always be grateful for that lesson.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Was it President Johnson who fueled your passion for writing about presidents and the presidency?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: I think so.

I think I was so aware of the privilege of having this man, for some reason, having chosen me to talk to. He talked to me about his mother, his father, his dreams, his sadnesses. And I realized that it was just a pretty lucky thing in some ways that he had chosen me to be there in those last years, and use that information for that first book on Lyndon Johnson. I think from then on, it made me want to understand the private side of the public figures, because I'd had that connection with this first one I ever knew. So the kind of books that I wrote from then on were not simply the public sides of President Kennedy or President Roosevelt, but really what their lives were like in the White House at the same time.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Was it during or following your conversations with him that you had the vision of studying the lives of other presidents?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: After the Lyndon Johnson book came out, I was still a professor at Harvard. I taught a big course on the presidency in the Government Department there.

Not long before Lyndon Johnson died, he called me and he said that he had this terrible feeling that no one was really going to remember him. He had been reading Carl Sandberg's biography on Lincoln, and trying to bring Lincoln to life, and he couldn't do it. And he said that now he realized that maybe he would have been better off searching for his immortality through his children, and their children in turn, instead of through the fickleness of the American public, who were now preoccupied with Nixon, his successor. I remember trying to tease him out of that, and saying, "Oh, they will always remember you. I'll put a question on every exam on you," because I was teaching this course on the presidency. And he said, "You're not listening to me. I'm telling you something important. Get married, have children and spend time with them." Only two weeks after that, he was dead. He died of a heart attack at his ranch.

I think I spent three or four more years after his death finishing my book on Lyndon Johnson. Once it came out, because of the way it was received and the pleasure I had in writing it, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Up until that time, I think I saw myself mostly as a professor, writing on the side. But at that point, I had gotten married, had three kids, and couldn't do it all. I couldn't be a teacher and a writer and a mother. I had to choose. So I gave up teaching at Harvard in order to become a full-time historian, which is what I've been ever since.

Thinking back now, what books did you read when you were young that inspired you?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: When I was in high school, there was a book by James MacGregor Burns, a wonderful historian, called The Lion and the Fox, about FDR. And it was about his personality, his character, his early years in Hyde Park, his polio experience and... I remember that so vividly as the first real, live history book that I love so much. And I later met him, and have gotten to know him as a colleague, and he's about 30 years older than I am, and I couldn't wait to tell him, "You were the one who made it happen."

What type of books do you enjoy reading these days?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Right now, I'm working on a memoir about growing up in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s in Long Island. So I'm reading books on baseball almost entirely. Baseball is another huge love of mine, not only because of that experience keeping score for my father, but after the Brooklyn Dodgers left Brooklyn and went to Los Angeles, I later moved to Boston and became a Red Sox fan. So I have season tickets to the Red Sox, and live and die by this crazy team. At the moment, I'm reading memoirs to understand the whole form of memoirs, and at the same time reading books about baseball.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 09:16 EST
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