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Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Looks to Past Presidents for Lessons the World Could Use Right Now

Doris Kearns Goodwin lives surrounded by American history. Her home in Concord, Mass., is minutes from the site of one of the first battles of the American Revolution. The house itself, cool on a day that broke heat records in nearby Boston, is full of history too. What was once a three-car garage is now a library. Abraham Lincoln books are in there, and Franklin Roosevelt is nearby. The section on Theodore Roosevelt is upstairs. A small room with exercise bikes is devoted to memoir. Fiction has its place too. And at the end of one hallway, there’s a section that might surprise visitors to the home of one of the nation’s most famous historians: business and psychology books on leadership.

That section is new. These–and the papers in dozens of colorful three-ring binders in a nearby room–were research materials for Goodwin’s new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, out Sept. 18. Leadership guru is a role Goodwin, 75, has filled informally for years, as a frequent speaker on lessons gleaned from the Presidents who have been the subjects of her award-winning biographies. In her new book, Goodwin has taken “her guys”–Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Lyndon B. Johnson–and crafted elements of their parallel stories into a comparatively slim volume (read: nearly 500 pages counting the bibliography) for history buffs and C-suiters alike.

Goodwin says the writing experience reminded her of graduate school, when she and her friends would talk about how their studies might offer a path forward in their own lives. It felt like “coming full circle,” she says–and allowed her to feel like she was paying something of a debt to the leaders she has chronicled over the years.

“Each time I finished a project, I had to move that guy’s books to another room, and I always felt I was vaguely betraying him,” Goodwin says. “This time I could keep them all where they were.”

In Leadership, each President gets his start, faces obstacles personal and national, and achieves success. Some moments stand out: Teddy Roosevelt’s handling of a strike or FDR’s road map for the first 100 days, which became a staple for future Presidents’ first terms. From Lincoln comes the idea of writing “hot” letters, never to be sent, to get out one’s anger. It’s hard to imagine Goodwin angry–she won’t let TIME take an unsmiling photo of her–but she says anyone can use that tip. And a coda to LBJ’s story, about his lack of leadership on Vietnam, neatly highlights the stakes of her lessons. ...

Read entire article at Time Magazine