Doris Kearn’s Goodwin’s  excellence as a presidential historian makes her eminently qualified for this sweeping analysis of the commonality of the leadership attributes of Lincoln, TR, FDR and LBJ.  LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES is an insightful read particularly against the backdrop of the Trump administration.

The book creates a longing for the greatness and generational accomplishments of these historic presidential icons. Goodwin’s perspective derives from years of intimate presidential research that is evidenced so acutely in her writing that you can imagine her knowing all of these them personally. That was specifically the case of Lyndon Johnson.  A side note on LBJ. Goodwin gives him no slack on Vietnam but the utmost of accolades for his leadership on civil rights, voting rights and Medicare.

Even if you have not read Goodwin’s other presidential books you will find that her craftsmanship makes  LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES  a complete read. For those who have followed her work the book is even more compelling.

Doris Kearns Goodwin:  Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, No Ordinary Time, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Team of Rivals, The Bully Pulpit. ( For overviews of the aforementioned search gordonsgoodreads).








It is rare that I blog about a book with 400 pages still to read but if you or a member of your family loves history then place The Bully Pulpit, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism at the top of your  holiday list.


Doris Kearns Goodwin has outdone herself by telling the story of these two presidents at the turn of the 20th century  in an economic enviornment which is very relevant today.  Early on, this  prodigious work of history will place the reader both then and in 2013!  Goodwin lays the groundwork of the lives of TR and Taft , one most famous and the other mostly forgotten. Her research leads to a greater understanding of how the power of the presidency combined with investigative journalism can dictate  national policy.  There is no bully pulpit without the press. This of course is a lesson  learned long before the internet and cable news! Learn of the tremendous influence of McClure’s magazine during TR’s rise.   Of course , during this period of reflection on Abraham Lincoln, do not overlook  Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. 


My immediate take-away after completing all 605 pages of Robert Caro’s The Years of  Lyndon Johnson The Passage of Power  is both awe and marvel at Lyndon Johnson’s  accidental presence at the pinnacle of power from November, 1963 through 1965.  If Lyndon Johnson was president or senate majority leader in today’s political environment, for better or worse, there would likely be no gridlock in Washington D.C.  Never in the modern presidency has more of significance been accomplished in such short period then what transpired in the year and a half  of the Lyndon Johnson  presidency following the assassination of President  John F. Kennedy.

This incomparable work by Caro illuminates, for both the student of history and the observer, that regardless of a like or dislike of his tactics or the man himself, Lyndon Johnson’s accomplishment in moving historic legislation through a gridlocked congress is beyond comparison.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turned years of political rhetoric and decades of delay into law, and Lyndon Johnson made that happen during a most improbable time in  American history.  LBJ with all of his ruthlessness,  cajoling, bravado, insecurity, impatience and meanness did what no other president had done.  Deeply seeded in the memory of the poverty of his youth, LBJ’s empathy for the poor and underprivileged surfaced, often with a vengeance, to overcome the impossible obstacles standing before these two pieces of landmark legislation. For this reader, understanding how the  aforementioned was accomplished became the centerpiece of this Pulitzer destined work.  But, there is so much more.

The mutual hatred that existed between Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy and the inordinate effect that it had upon a functioning government is made manifest throughout the book. Robert Kennedy’s unsuccessful multiple efforts to convince Johnson to withdraw from  his brother’s selection of Johnson as the vice-presidential candidate in 1960 depicts a near maniacal RFK. The relegation of LBJ’s vice-presidency to a meaningless and often humiliating position often punctuated by RFK’s ” corn pone vice-president” references are almost unimaginable and would normally be thought relegated to a school-yard bully.  While LBJ is often lionized in Caro’s pages, Robert Kennedy is given faint if any praise at all in this carefully researched book.

Caro details the brilliance with which Johnson handled the passage of power upon Kennedy’s assassination . How LBJ managed the emotional devastation of the Kennedy team  is a remarkable story in itself. He convinced the great majority of them to stay on because , ” I need you , the country needs you and John  Kennedy’s legacy needs you.”  The overnight transformation of the ruthless master of the senate and insignificant, irrelevant  vice-president to become the nation’s hope, healer and steady hand is so magnificently detailed by Caro, so real, that it places the reader in the midst of a current event, not a bygone era!

You will learn from Caro’s research sources that  it was widely speculated that Robert Kennedy’s inability to move beyond the grief over his brother’s death may have been tied to a feeling of self guilt; that he and the president’s pursuit of  the assassination of Fidel Castro ( Operation Moongose) and the Mafia  may have in  fact been  a direct retaliation that killed President Kennedy.  Caro, despite the Warren Commission report, raises that speculation to the level of plausibility.

The Passage of Power  at times elevates Johnson to the heroic level but the narrative is equally balanced with the reality of the often brutal, threatening and unforgiving methods by which LBJ accomplished his goals.  From Johnson’s euphoric highs and the compassion demonstrated for minorities and the downtrodden surrounding of the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Caro, concludes Passage of Power with bombs dropping upon helpless villagers in Vietnam.  That era is left for another telling.

This is the fourth in Caro’s  The Years of Lyndon Johnson. The Passage of Power will have even greater meaning if you have already consumed The Path to Power ( 1982), Means of Ascent ( 1990) and Master of the Senate ( 2002).  However, Caro does such a good job in placing The Passage of Power in the context of Johnson’s lifetime that it is easily stand-alone read.  Throughout the book, Caro makes numerous references to another great work on Lyndon Johnson which I wholeheartedly commend to you, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I also recommend This Time,This Place, by Johnson aid and confidant Jack Valenti, who later left government for a distinguished career as the president on the Motion Picture Association of America. ( Check Gordon’s Good Reads Archives).

A  Robert Caro book of equal substance and a Pulitzer honoree  is his The Power Broker, Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.   Use of power to accomplish common good or abuse of power for personal gain; both books in a different time and place tell a significantly similar story.


Since beginning this blog I have been waiting for the right time to  recognize Jack Valenti.  There is a sentimental background to this posting as I was one of those incidental folks who worked with him tangentially on  some media events.  I mention that only to allow me to say that Jack Valenti made every individual he touched feel special.  In Jack’s world no one was ” incidental.”  His respect for all individuals was a basic tenet of his success.

Oscar week is the perfect time to remember his memoir This Time, This Place, My Life in War, the White House  and Hollywood. His last most prominent professional position was as  the legendary CEO of The Motion Picture Association of America. Jack Valenti died in  2007, the very year that this memoir was published.

Jack Valenti grew up poor in Texas, put himself through school delivering groceries,  graduated from Harvard and joined the Army Air Corps in World War Two.  He flew 52 combat missions as the pilot of a B-25 attack bomber based in Italy.

Upon his return, Valenti formed a small advertising and public relations agency in Houston and as fate would have it  then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson heard about this bright young man and in the summer of 1963 secured his services  as an advance man for the  Kennedy-Johnson 1964 campaign.  Valenti was in the Dallas motorcade on that fateful  November day, and flew to Washington on Air Force One  to remain at now President Johnson’s side. He became Special Assistant to President Johnson and served as his most trusted confidant.

The stories that Valenti recalls in his memoir are historically revealing and  personally insightful, including LBJ’s reaction when Jack announced  he was quitting to take the job at the MPAA!

As MPAA CEO Valenti transitioned into the Hollywood circles with the deftness of the master politician that he was. He accomplished his goals in those treacherous ego filled waters because he was good, trusted and loved. You will travel with Jack , in his element, among the moguls, stars and starlets of Hollywood.  The stories are wonderful. He star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I can not recommend more highly this well written and fascinating look at  a great American story with all the elements of the child of emigrants working his way to navigate and thrive in the highest levels of the land. It is if course also a special and unique look inside the Johnson Presidency.

If you are one who is  fascinated by the persona of LBJ there is one other great book that must be mentioned here, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream.

These are not  ” text-book reads” they are fascinating page turners with characters and personalities as good as in the best novel!

Doris Kearns Goodwin Gets Another President’s Week Nod

Yesterday we noted Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time, during our President’s Week picks.  Today she gets another nod with Team of Rivals  the wonderfully chronicled story of Lincoln’s bringing into his cabinet his four leading opponents for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 1860.  William Seward was named Secretary of State, Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, Edward Bates, Attorney General and Salmon Chase, Treasury Secretary.  

What is considered a brilliant move by some historians was not without its acrimony and behind the scenes dealings not altogether helpful to the new president.  Goodwin is brilliant in telling this story as it unfolds during the lead-up to the Civil  War.  It is a wonderful look at this period of American History from inside the president’s cabinet and offers tremendous insight into Lincoln’s thought process during the war.

Like to much of Goodwin’s writing and research Team of Rivals is relevant in its lessons for today.

It is no surprise that Team of Rivals brought Goodwin another Pulitzer.