Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin Biography

Educator, Journalist (1943–)
Doris Kearns Goodwin is best known for authoring biographies of American presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.


Doris Kearns Goodwin is an author and historian known for her highly regarded studies of American presidents. A meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 resulted in Goodwin's first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976). Her second book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987), was a best-seller. Following the release of No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II in 1994, Goodwin published a memoir detailing her youth in Brooklyn. She returned to presidential literature thereafter, releasing Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 2005.

Early Life

Famed author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was born Doris Helen Kearns in New York City, on January 4, 1943. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Rockville Centre, Long Island, Goodwin developed an early affinity for history, politics and writing, and fell "in love" with the Brooklyn Dodgers, according to her memoir Wait Till Next Year: Summer Afternoons with My Father and Baseball

After earning an undergraduate degree from Colby College in Maine in 1964, Goodwin enrolled at Harvard University. During her third year of graduate school, she was awarded a White House Fellowship and, subsequently, a brief assistantship in Washington, D.C. with then Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, a member of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration at the time. (Wirtz had previously served under John F. Kennedy.)

Around the same time, Goodwin encountered some unexpected publicity when she co-wrote an article for the magazine The New Republic, disparaging Johnson's decision to expand U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. News of the piece quickly traveled throughout White House, attracting the attention of Johnson and his staff—a situation that would typically result in the end of an era for a White House intern, or, at the very least, a slap on the wrist. Goodwin, however, won a promotion of sorts. Months after the article's publication, President Johnson asked Goodwin to assist him with writing his memoirs. She accepted and soon embarked on what would later become a decades-long career as a presidential biographer.

Presidential Biographies

Goodwin graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in government in 1968. It wasn't until nearly a decade later that she published her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976)—a result of her early meeting with Johnson and her ensuing analysis of his memoirs.

Her follow-up biography, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga, was released in 1987 and quickly became a best-seller. The book was later adapted for the television series The Kennedys of Massachusetts, airing in 1990 on ABC. In 1994, Goodwin released another presidential biography, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, which proved to be one of her biggest achievements. She won immense commercial and critical acclaim for the FDR book, culminating with the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Changing genres in the late 1990s, Goodwin released a memoir detailing her early life in Brooklyn, Wait till Next Year: A Memoir (1997). Her most recent work and fourth presidential biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, released in 2005, was another literary success. In an interview with the Academy of Achievement in the mid-1990s, years before Team of Rivals was released, Goodwin expressed feeling apprehensive about the Lincoln project: "I was thinking that I wouldn't take on Lincoln until I was 70 or so, because it seems like the Moby Dick of historians, but the Civil War is so fabulously interesting, and so is he."

Several years after its publication, Team of Rivals returned to the media forefront when director Steven Spielberg acquired rights to the book for a major film adaptation, Lincoln. The highly anticipated film, scheduled for a November 2012 release, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, among other prominent performers.

Asked why she's passionate about writing presidential biographies during her mid-'90s interview with the Academy of Achievement, Goodwin explained, "It is not a question of coming at it from the start as if I'm out to get them, or out to praise them. I just want them to come alive again. That's all you really ask of history. Then the reader can feel, with all the complexity of emotions, what it is that is happening to them."

Other Projects and Personal Life

In addition to writing, Goodwin has worked for NBC News, as a government professor at Harvard, and as a political commentator. Additionally, in 1994, she served as a consultant for a baseball documentary created by Ken Burns, The History of Baseball. She is currently working on her next book about the broken friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.

Goodwin has been married to former White House adviser Richard Goodwin since 1975. They have three sons, Richard, Michael and Joseph.

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