Doris Kearns Goodwin

Presidential Biographer

Doris Kearns Goodwin on Meet The Press, 2005
Doris Kearns Goodwin on Meet The Press, 2005. Getty Images for Meet the Press / Getty Images

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a biographer and historian. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Basic Facts:

Dates: January 4, 1943 -

Occupation: writer, biographer; professor of government, Harvard University; assistant to President Lyndon Johnson

Known for: biographies, including of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; book Team of Rivals as an inspiration to President-Elect Barack Obama in picking a cabinet

Also known as: Doris Helen Kearns, Doris Kearns, Doris Goodwin

Religion: Roman Catholic

About Doris Kearns Goodwin:

Doris Kearns Goodwin was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1943.  She attended the 1963 March on Washington. She graduated magna cum laude from Colby College and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1968.  She became a White House fellow in 1967, assisting Willard Wirtz as a special assistant.

She came to the attention of President Lyndon Johnson when she co-wrote a very critical article on Johnson for the New Republic magazine, “How to Remove LBJ in 1968.” Several months later, when they met in person at a dance at the White House, Johnson asked her to work with him in the White House. He apparently wanted to have on staff someone who opposed his foreign policy, especially in Vietnam, during a time when he was under heavy criticism.  She served in the White House from 1969 to 1973.

Johnson asked her to help write his memoirs.  During and after Johnson's Presidency, Kearns visited Johnson many times, and in 1976, three years after his death, published her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, an official biography of Johnson. She drew on the friendship and conversations with Johnson, supplemented by careful research and critical analysis, to present a picture of his accomplishments, failures, and motivations.

The book, which took a psychological approach, met with critical acclaim, though some critics disagreed.  One common criticism was her interpretation of Johnson’s dreams.

She married Richard Goodwin in 1975. Her husband, an advisor to John and Robert Kennedy as well as a writer, helped her to gain access to people and papers for her story on the Kennedy family, begun in 1977 and finished ten years later.  The book was originally intended to be about John F. Kennedy, Johnson’s predecessor, but it grew into a three-generation story of the Kennedys, starting with “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and ending with John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. This book, too, was critically acclaimed and was made into a television movie.  She not only had access to her husband’s experience and connections but gained access to Joseph Kennedy’s personal correspondence.  This book also gained considerable critical acclaim.

In 1995, Doris Kearns Goodwin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time. She focused attention on relationships that FDR had had with various women, including his mistress Lucy Mercer Rutherford, and on relationships that Eleanor Roosevelt had with such friends as Lorena Hickock, Malvina Thomas, and Joseph Lash.

  As with her previous works, she looked at the families each came out of, and at the challenges each faced – including Franklin’s paraplegia.  She pictured them as working effectively in partnership even though they were alienated from each other personally and both quite lonely in the marriage.

She then turned to writing a memoir of her own, about growing up as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Wait Till Next Year.

In 2005, Doris Kearns Goodwin published Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. She had originally planned to write about the relationship of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.  Instead, she depicted his relationships with cabinet colleagues -- especially William H. Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon P. Chase -- as a kind of marriage as well, considering the time he spent with these men and the emotional bonds they developed during the war.

When Barack Obama was elected as president in 2008, his selections for cabinet positions were reportedly influenced by his wanting to build a similar "team of rivals."

Goodwin followed with a book on the changing relationship between two other presidents and their journalistic depictions, especially by muckrakers: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has also been a regular political commentator for television and radio.

Background, Family:

  • Father: Michael Alouisius, a bank examiner
  • Mother: Helen Witt Kearns

Education:

  • Colby College, B.A.
  • Harvard University, Ph.D., 1968

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Richard Goodwin (married 1975; writer, political advisor)
  • children: Richard, Michael, Joseph

Frequently asked question: I do not have Doris Kearns Goodwin's email address, mailing address or postal address. If you're trying to get in touch with her, I suggest you contact her publisher. To find her most recent publisher, check the "Books by Doris Kearns Goodwin" section below or her official website. For speaking dates, try contacting her agent, Beth Laski and Associates, in California.

Books by Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga: 1991 (trade paperback)
  • Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: 1991 (trade paperback)
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt -- The Home Front in World War II: 1994 (hardcover)
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt -- The Home Front in World War II: 1995 (trade paperback)
  • Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir: 1997 (hardcover)
  • Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir: 1998 (trade paperback)
  • Leader to Leader: Enduring Insights on Leadership from the Drucker Foundation's Award-Winning Journal. Editors: Paul M. Cohen, Frances Hesselbein: 1999. (hardcover) Includes an essay by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln: 2005

Selected Quotes From Doris Kearns Goodwin

  1. I am a historian. With the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am. And there is nothing I take more seriously.
  1. I shall always be grateful for this curious love of history, allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me to learn from these large figures about the struggle for meaning for life.
  2. The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.
  3. That is what leadership is all about: staking your ground ahead of where opinion is and convincing people, not simply following the popular opinion of the moment.
  4. Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.
  5. Once a president gets to the White House, the only audience that is left that really matters is history.
  6. I've been to the White House a number of times.
  7. I realize that to be a historian is to discover the facts in context, to discover what things mean, to lay before the reader your reconstruction of time, place, mood, to empathize even when you disagree. You read all the relevant material, you synthesize all the books, you speak to all the people you can, and then you write down what you known about the period. You feel you own it.
  8. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
  9. Journalism still, in a democracy, is the essential force to get the public educated and mobilized to take action on behalf of our ancient ideals.
  10. And as for the final sphere of love and friendship, I can only say it gets harder once the natural communities of college and home town are gone. It takes work and commitment, demands toleration for human frailties, forgiveness for the inevitable disappointment and betrayals that come even with the best of relationships.
  11. Generally, what gives me the most pleasure really is sharing with the audience some of the experiences and the stories of more than two decades now spent in writing this series of presidential biographies.
  12. In being able to talk about how you do it, what the experience is in interviewing people and talking to people who knew the people and going through the letters and sifting it through. Essentially just telling your favorite stories of the various people.... The great thing is that as you accumulate more and more subjects, there are more and more great stories to share. I think what the audience likes to hear are some of the stories that reveal character and the human traits of some of these figures who might otherwise seem distant to them.
  13. 'The bully pulpit' is somewhat diminished in our age of fragmented attention and fragmented media.
  14. I write about presidents. That means I write about guys -- so far. I'm interested in the people closest to them, the people they love and the people they've lost... I don't want to limit it to what they did in the office, but what happens at home and in their interactions with other people.
  15. [on accusations of plagiarism:] Ironically, the more intensive and far-reaching a historian's research, the greater the difficulty of citation. As the mountain of material grows, so does the possibility of error…. I now rely on a scanner, which reproduces the passages I want to cite, and then I keep my own comments on those books in a separate file so that I will never confuse the two again.
  16. [On Lyndon Johnson:] So dominant had politics been, constricting his horizon in every sphere, that once the realm of high power was taken from him, he was drained of all vitality. Years of concentration solely on work meant that in his retirement he could find no solace in recreation, sports or hobbies. As his spirits sagged, his body deteriorated, until I believe he slowly brought about his own death.
  17. [On Abraham Lincoln:] Lincoln's ability to retain his emotional balance in such difficult situations was rooted in actute self-awareness and an enormous capacity to dispel anxiety in constructive ways.
  18. [On Abraham Lincoln:] This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing.
  19. [About her book, Team of Rivals:] I thought, at first, that I would focus on Abraham Lincoln and Mary as I did on Franklin and Eleanor; but, I found that during the war, Lincoln was married more to the colleagues in his cabinet -- in terms of time he spent with them and the emotion shared -- than he was to Mary.
  20. Taft was Roosevelt's handpicked successor. I didn't know how deep the friendship was between the two men until I read their almost four hundred letters, stretching back to the early '30s. It made me realize the heartbreak when they ruptured was much more than a political division.