Leadership in Turbulent Times: A Review

February 15, 2019

In recognition of the Presidents’ Birthday Holidays in the United States….

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Leadership in Turbulent Times cover.jpg

Genre/Categories: Non Fiction, Biographical, U.S. Presidents, U.S. History, Government/Politics

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


In Leadership in Turbulent Times, Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin explores the topic of leadership. Goodwin provides case studies of four presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. As she describes their early lives and follows them into adulthood, she explains how they faced challenges and difficult circumstances and became noted leaders. What traits or skills did they share that helped them become leaders in their time?

Amazon Star Rating (February): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Leadership. Goodwin sets out to compare and contrast the leadership of four U.S. presidents, but the challenge of studying four vastly different men living in different times and facing unique circumstances is a monumental task. From her material, I gained some insights. Each of the four presidents faced challenges in childhood and their personal lives that might have discouraged them from pursuing their dreams. So the first traits I notice are resilience, determination, and risk taking. Each one had a feeling that he was destined to do more and be more than what his present circumstances would suggest was attainable. It is interesting to me that in our county’s early history, ambitious young men decided that politics was their best opportunity for achievement. In addition, they each cared deeply about the welfare of individual folks and the nation. They each were driven to make a difference and to be remembered for something. Finally, it struck me how each president was gifted in interpersonal communication, exhibited an affable personality, and was an excellent communicator. Overall, each of the presidents was visionary, an innovative problem solver, and thought outside the box. Although they had more differences than similarities, the similarities I mention are a significant part of their leadership traits. I think young people who study these presidents can be encouraged that a difficult childhood or challenging personal circumstances do not have to determine the course of their lives or their leadership potential.

The Presidents. Each president studied is a unique person with a dissimilar background and skill set from the others, yet each became a leader. Noted here are a few facts and insights I gained from the reading. Hopefully, the following details will whet your appetite for reading more about these interesting and famous presidents.

  • Abraham Lincoln was self educated with a great resolve to succeed, sensitive, and deeply empathetic. He is remembered for his ability to promote teamwork and for the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Even though Theodore Roosevelt was privately educated, privileged, and sheltered, he was extremely self disciplined, ambitious, and grew in his ability to work well with others. He is remembered for being a rancher who took risks to build courage, a “rough rider,” for his leadership to resolve the coal miner strike, and for The Square Deal.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, a late bloomer, exhibited warmth and charm and verbal skills, had an optimistic temperament, had a desire to please, was a quick decision maker and masterful problem solver, and demonstrated adaptability. He was known for his leadership during the Depression, his efforts in the banking crisis, Fireside Chats, and The New Deal. Eleanor Roosevelt was a great partner with FDR as she traveled the country taking the pulse of the people (FDR: “Don’t confuse what people in Washington are saying with what people in the country are feeling.”). Women in journalism owe Eleanor a nod of appreciation as she declared that only women journalists were allowed at her press conferences which sent newspapers across the nation scrambling to hire women journalists!
  • Lyndon Johnson, never satisfied and always pushing forward, was driven by the lure of power. It’s thought provoking to compare Lincoln, driven by affiliation and teamwork, and Johnson, driven by power and control. Johnson is known for the Great Society (legislation in Civil Rights, federal aid to education, Medicare, voting rights, etc.). His greatest failure was Viet Nam which laid the foundation for future mistrust of government that we experience today.

All four presidents felt called to public service, and each experienced personal and professional setbacks. While some people quit under these circumstances and others recover somewhat and plod along in life, still others adapt, change, and grow like our four presidents.

Recommended. Leadership in Turbulent Times is highly recommended for all citizens of the U.S. because understanding our history informs our present and affects our future. It is especially recommended for those who enjoy inspiring stories of resilient and determined individuals, for history buffs, and for readers who enjoy personality studies and case studies.

Rating. I can see this is really good, and I know that for others it might be a 5 star read. For a person like myself who didn’t major in history, it’s wonderfully readable, thoughtfully presented, and engaging.  I particularly appreciate that Goodwin includes reflective analysis as well as detailed historical facts. For readers like my husband who have read her other individual biographies of these presidents, some of the material in Leadership will be familiar and might seem repetitive. For me, it was informative and enjoyable, and it put random facts and acquired knowledge into a meaningful context.

My Rating: 4 Stars


leadership in turbulent times

Leadership in Turbulent Times

Meet the Author, Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN’s interest in leadership began more than half a century ago as a professor at Harvard. Her experiences working for LBJ in the White House and later assisting him on his memoirs led to her bestselling Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Goodwin earned the Lincoln Prize for the runaway bestseller Team of Rivals, the basis for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, and the Carnegie Medal for The Bully Pulpit, the New York Times bestselling chronicle of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer Richard N. Goodwin. More at http://www.doriskearnsgoodwin.com @DorisKGoodwin

See my review of Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Let’s Discuss!

Have you read any work of Doris Kearn Goodwin? I’ve read Wait Till Next Year (her memoir) and my husband has read several of her works…. Team of Rivals is a favorite.

What non fiction have you read so far this year? I just finished In Pieces by Sally Field (memoir).

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Looking Ahead:

Look at all these books I’ve read that will be reviewed on the blog in the next few weeks! The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio, In Pieces by Sally Field, Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly, Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris, and Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (MG).


The Secret Library Book Blog always has great weekly links! Please check out this reading resource!

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!

SoCal residents: If you live in or near the Orange or Riverside Counties of Southern California, you might be interested in the Corona Library Author Brunch on April 13.

historical fiction author brunch.jpg

In Movie News….

For Fredrik Backman fans, Britt-Marie Was Here will be a movie! (I also heard that a Beartown series is being produced for Europe HBO…so maybe soon in the US?)

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.

(You might consider adding these four books to your ‘want to read list’ in preparation!)

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

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