Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses lessons Lincoln has for Obama

Historians in the News

Thousands of Americans have bought Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 book, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," after hearing that it shaped President-elect Barack Obama's thinking.

"Rivals," which examines how Lincoln put three of his opponents in the 1860 election in his Cabinet, was No. 14 on Amazon.com's bestseller list the Friday before Thanksgiving, no small feat for three-year-old nonfiction. (Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams from My Father" were No. 10 and No. 11 on that list, respectively.)

Goodwin spoke recently about her take on Obama and the lessons Lincoln offers him....

Q. The Civil War was a different time from this, and the context of a nation at war with itself seems different from the context of a nation politically divided but at war with Islamic radicalism overseas. Is Lincoln's experience relevant?

A. There's no question we're in a very different situation. At bottom, politics, leadership, is about human relations: how you can mobilize people to follow you, how you can bring a country together. Those things are universal.

Q. Do you see this as a Progressive era now?

A. I think it's a possibility. We could indeed be coming into one again.

Q. How would that manifest?

A. Government takes a greater responsibility for the health care of the country, to help alternative energy along in a deeper way, in national service. In each of these (Progressive) eras, it's not just what happens in the government, it's that people feel they want to be a part of what's happening in the country, that the citizens are active.

Q. What are you reading now?

A. I'm mostly reading Teddy Roosevelt now, because the next book I'm going to do is on Teddy Roosevelt and (William Howard) Taft and the muckraker journalists.

Q. Has Obama asked you to play any formal or informal role in the administration?

A. No. But I'd love to help out if I could.
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