by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership. Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man? In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely - Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) - to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders. No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others. This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.
Both this book and it’s delivery in audiobook format are remarkable works. Goodwin exemplifies the highest values and skills of historian and biographer. I saw little evidence of glossing over the unsavory aspects of these Commanders-in-Chief. It is both a solid display of research and editing. Better still is her story-telling. The audiobook is art fully presented by the author and four actors: each of whom read the different sections covering a dedicated President. Above all, I find this work inspirational; it encourages me to be a better human and to strive for the classic virtues of leadership these men exemplified (though not always) at strategic moments in our country’s history. I’m listening to it now a third time. (Note: those who possess a basic understanding of 19th and 20th Centuries US history will be at home with this work. It assumes this of readers and never “talks down” to us.)