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Historian reflects on lessons people can learn from past presidents


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin signs copies of her latest book last week in Los Altos.

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin shared stories of politics and baseball at the Celebrity Forum Speakers Series last week, her third appearance in the past 18 years.

Goodwin centered her presentation on American presidents and the lessons people can learn from them.

She began working for President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 while a graduate student at Harvard University. Her only concern about writing about presidents, she said, is the prospect of them confronting her in the afterlife. The first to complain would be Johnson, who she said would scream at her, “How come that book you wrote on the Kennedys is twice as long as the book you wrote on me?”

Johnson was a fabulous storyteller, Goodwin recalled, but only half were true.

“He opened up to me his last year in office and gave me the drive to show some leadership abilities and motivate myself,” she said. “I write about presidents and the people they loved. I don’t want to limit it to what they did in office, but what happens at home and the interaction with other people.”

The idea for Goodwin’s latest book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” grew out of a seminar she taught at Harvard nearly 40 years ago.

Goodwin learned to appreciate Taft, but she thought he was more suited to the role of Supreme Court justice, as he admitted himself.

“Not every No. 2 man was meant to be No. 1,” she said.

Goodwin said the Roosevelt/Taft story became ugly as they engaged in a brutal fight for the presidency in 1912. It was a bitter battle that destroyed both their political futures.

Director Steven Spielberg turned Goodwin’s book on Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals,” into the Academy Award-winning film “Lincoln.” Spielberg also has optioned “The Bully Pulpit.”

In response to a question from the audience, Goodwin said, “I think it is time for a woman to be president. All the world is ahead of us.”

Reflecting on her career, Goodwin reminisced about how, as a 6-year-old, she kept score of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games for her father.

“From something as simple as the small red scorebook where I inscribed the narrative of the ball game, I saw the inception of what has become my life’s work as a historian,” she said, adding that she was the first female journalist to enter the Red Sox locker room.

For more information on Celebrity Forum, visit celebrityforum.net.

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