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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2018 Doris Kearns Goodwin (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

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What makes a president great?

The title of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book is Leadership. What she's really examining through the stories of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and LBJ is: what makes a president great or how does a president become great?

Goodwin has devoted entire books to each man, which is a definite plus because she knows the material so well she's able to pick and choose events from their lives to illustrate the teaching moments in leadership. (She knew LBJ personally.) Goodwin is also able to craft short narratives of these someday presidents that bring out their struggles, pathos and unique brilliance. The reader meets flesh-and-blood men, not dusty historical figures.

What Goodwin finds is that her presidents are made rather than born. Two were born to hardscrabble families: Lincoln and LBJ. Two were born to privilege: Teddy and FDR. Each one was driven by tremendous ambition but the ambition was ultimately, at least, alloyed to greater purpose.

And each staggered through a time in the wilderness. Lincoln's brief tenure in congress threw him back to Illinois and the law profession. His political career had stalled, and for long years he moved along in relative obscurity, only drawn out by the contested expansion of slavery to frontier states. Teddy lost his wife and mother in a single day. He withdrew to the Dakotas where frenetic activity kept him ahead of all-consuming despair. FDR's fine physique and, he assumed, his presidential hopes were dashed by polio. LBJ lost an important bid for political office, which shadowed his belief in his destiny with agonized doubt.

These men were not alike. They did not possess the same gifts, nor the same faults. And those faults didn't necessarily disappear when they reached the presidency. But they did have a capacity to grow from mistakes and to find mentors and team members who were far from being yes men (or yes women in Eleanor Roosevelt's case).

Goodwin paints pictures of flawed men who nevertheless were able to rise above self-interest and politics as usual to work toward a better, equitable vision of America.

The narrators are beyond excellent. Beau Bridges narrates the LBJ chapters and he's stellar. I don't know if he's narrated an audiobook before, but he should do it again.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 09-30-18

Insightful

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I also learned a few things about presidents, I have read many of their biographies. I am a big fan of Goodwin. She states she started working on this book in 2013 and it took her five years to research and write. I felt that the release of the book at this current time in our presidential affairs was quite pertinent.

Goodwin wrote biographies over the years of each of the presidents. She chose for this book: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lindon Baines Johnson. The book is divided into three thematic areas: ambition and recognition of leadership; adversity and growth; and how they led. In the final section Goodwin examines different types of leadership: transformational, crisis management, turnaround and visionary.

The book is well written and researched. I found it interesting that each president struggled with his own variety of emotional problems. Goodwin reveals how each president had different leadership abilities. I found the three case studies in part three most interesting. Goodwin has presented two republican presidents and two democrat presidents. The book is unbiased. The book is well organized and easy to read. Goodwin is a master storyteller; that skill brings history to life. I highly recommend this book.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is just over eighteen hours. The narration was excellent. Goodwin narrated the introduction and epilog. Beau Bridges, David Morse, Jay O. Sanders and Richard Thomas each narrated a president. It was great having different narrators as it allowed distinction between each president.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Thanks for bringing my favorite men to life

What a beautiful story. Doris has done it again. She brings the men back to life in the truest form. Thank you for the privilege of reading your research on the men of such greatness, written so well.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Yearning for a Rebirth of this Leadership

Dr Goodwin’s has written a truly stirring portrait of what real leadership is and how it manifests.
If you only have time for one chapter, don’t miss Chapter 9. However, the rest of the book is not to be missed. “Leadership” is organized into a three main section, each containing a chapter on each of Goodwin's four presidential leaders, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, for a total of 12 chapters. The first section recounts their early live, the second, their rise to public life, and the third, a demonstration of their leadership in troubled times. There is also a forward and epilogue.
The author has published extensively on all four of these presidents. So, there is little new in terms of biographical facts of which Dr. Goodwin’s readers are not already aware. Similarly, the coverage of their presidential leadership is not meant to be comprehensive. For instance, little is made of President Johnson’s profound lack of leadership in his handling of the Vietnam War.
Those of us who pick up this book and read it are left with a deep understanding of leadership on a world-stage scale looks like, and a fervent desire to sea such leadership addressing our current troubles.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rosemary
  • Greenwich, CT, United States
  • 10-22-18

Superb. This is the masterpiece of her career

So well timed. These four stories of our greatest leaders are a revelation in the current atmosphere of division and anger in our country. I didn’t think DJG could bring me to tears but she did. She is the most superb historian of our time. A great inheritor to Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton.

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  • BG
  • California, USA
  • 10-20-18

An amazing and time book in time of Trump

Thoroughly enjoyed the book. This is book particularly relevant in the current moment of most appaling lack of courage and leadership.

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Superb in Every Way

Doris Kearns Goodwin focuses on the the traits of leadership that catapulted Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delaney Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson to the ultimate role as President of the United States. Her enthusiasm for and deep admiration of “her guys” (as she affectionately refers to the four, given her decades long research and writing about them) is more than infectious. Getting to know any one of them, as we do so well in this book, is getting to understand the kind of grit, resilience, determination, and moral character that shapes the greatest leaders we have seen. Despite their unique leadership styles, common threads weave these men together as if from one cloth: curiosity, empathy, the ability to listen, temperament, integrity, and most of all, a deep belief that the opportunity to serve one’s country on behalf of the greater good is one’s greatest calling. Then, now, and in the future, these are the characteristics that define those who will hold keys to success for America during its darkest days.

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Entertaining and inspiring

The author really brought history to life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Many of the beautifully-crafted scenes brought tears to my eyes.

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Save Your Money

Unless you are a fourth grader with no knowledge of presidential history, you will not learn anything from this book. I have greatly enjoyed Ms. Goodwin's previous books, but this one gives you a very superficial treatment of three great and one so-so president. If you have read anything about them in the past, you will not learn anything new. She fails to put any of the four presidents in a complete historical perspective, instead concentrating on their early years as if those years made the leaders they later became. Save your money and buy individual books on these four presidents and you will be glad you did.

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She wrote four separate books on them GREAT

Each of her previous books on these Presidents were masterful. this is a great compendium of those.