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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: 7 / 9)

Pulitzer Prize for History

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  Doris Kearns Goodwin

Generally speaking, regardless of what field someone chooses, what personal characteristics do you think are most important for success? What do you tell your students and your children?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: One of the important qualities that I think is often overlooked is just energy. It's vitality, and sort of a life force that some people have and others don't. Probably that is connected to a love of whatever it is that they're doing. Another quality that I think is central is confidence. Again, some people are more blessed with that than others.

When I look at Franklin Roosevelt's leadership, I think the most important quality he had during the Depression and the war was this absolute confidence in himself, in his country, really in the American people. He was able to exude that confidence and almost project it. So when the people in the country heard him speak in these fireside chats, they said, "Yeah, it's going to be okay. We'll get through this depression," or "We'll win this war." I think confidence comes from doing something well, working at it hard, and you build it up. It's not something you're born with. You have to build the confidence as you go along. So I would say energy, vitality, confidence, being willing to take risks at certain times if it's something you believe in. That's probably the hardest thing you have to figure out, and that's where courage comes in. I think in the long run, these qualities somehow all meld together in a way that it's hard to speak about them separately

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

The World War II era -- and the adversity that had to be overcome in those days -- remains a fascination for many of us. We have been fortunate enough to live in peaceful times. Do you think we are in some way deprived, lacking that experience of adversity?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: I think there is something to that. During World War II, there were factories open 24 hours a day, people willingly going to ration goods in order to contribute to the overall good and the economy, a sense that their sons, daughters, brothers were in the war overseas, so they had to work at home to make it all work. There is a sense of feeling larger than your own life when you're in some common mission together. You have to hope it's not going to take a war to bring that back to our country again. I think another time when it seemed to be here was in the early 1960s.

The one thing that John Kennedy did, above all else, was to energize young people to feel that they wanted to give something to their country. That's what the Peace Corps was all about, what VISTA was all about, what the civil rights movement was all about. That wasn't John Kennedy's doing, but the civil rights movement is a big part of what made his presidency work. And I know, being a young person in that era, it was wonderful to be alive at that time. I just hope, for young people of this generation, that they'll experience that feeling once again, that by working on large goals, they can do something more than their own individual ambition. I know from having been caught in the civil rights movement myself when I was young, it made those days much larger. And it was my experience of a war, in a certain sense, going down to Mississippi in the summer, going down to register people in the South. I value that more than almost anything else I've ever done.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Is it because of that adversity?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: I think it's because you were working with other people.

There were enemies. There were people in the South who didn't want the blacks registered to vote. But more importantly, there was a sense of a brotherhood, of working for a goal that you knew was an important goal, that the country itself would be made better, and you were doing something not just for yourself, but something larger than yourself. That makes you feel bigger somehow.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Doris Kearns Goodwin Interview Photo
You were obviously been very close to the White House and Washington, being nearly selected to head the Peace Corps. President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Were you taking that to heart?

Doris Kearns Goodwin: There is nothing that I would like to instill in my own three sons more than that philosophy. It's difficult when we talk to them now.

My husband worked for President Kennedy, was involved actually in writing the Peace Corps speech, worked for Lyndon Johnson and did all the great voting rights speeches. So these kids know how much we believe in all this. It is hard to penetrate the modern feeling -- and I understand why they feel it -- that politics is about special interests, that it's corrupt, that it's not really after these large goals that it was when we were there. Issues that are debated -- the balanced budget -- are not quite the same dimension as civil rights or the Voting Rights Act. I keep thinking that history runs in cycles, and that some day these large issues will come before the country again. There will be leaders that inspire young people. I don't think it means that it's over forever, but I'm getting pretty impatient. I'm hoping it comes soon, so that my young people can know that experience that we knew in the '60s, and that the World War II generation knew during the '40s.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

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