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An Unfinished Love Story

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Kirkus The renowned presidential historian delves into the Kennedy and Johnson eras, drawing from the archives and personal insights of her husband, a former speechwriter for both leaders. In the years before Richard “Dick” Goodwin's death in 2018, he and his wife, Kearns Goodwin, embarked on an ambitious project that unfolded into a poignant journey through time. Together, they delved into Dick's extensive trove of personal memorabilia, comprising diaries, letters, and countless documents housed in hundreds of boxes—a testament to his devoted service in both administrations. Upon reflection, moments of conflicting insights and assessments of the two presidents occasionally surfaced, notably in the case of Johnson, with whom the author collaborated after his term in office. Their conversations laid the groundwork for her debut book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. In earlier years, Dick had skillfully crafted many of Johnson's most significant speeches, commemorating historic bills such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which contained the iconic words, "We Shall Overcome.” As the author writes, “we experienced the man at different times—Dick at the height of the Sixties, me toward the end of the decade and the end of Lyndon Johnson’s life. And during that decade of the Sixties, he so changed both our lives that here we were, in our seventies and eighties, still arguing, bantering, and trying to come to terms with his enormous impact on us and on the country.” Resigning from Johnson's administration in 1965, Dick transitioned to teaching roles at various institutions and authoring numerous books and articles. However, it’s this earlier career phase that ignited the fecund author's imagination, serving as the foundation for how their perspectives on the trajectory of politics and the nation had shifted. A heartfelt tribute to the author’s late husband and a captivating reflection on this pivotal era in American politics. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly The high hopes of 1960s liberalism founder on the shoals of the Vietnam War in this nostalgic memoir. Pulitzer winner Goodwin (No Ordinary Time) revisits her late husband Richard Goodwin’s experiences as a speechwriter to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and working on the 1968 presidential campaigns of senators Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Drawing on Richard’s journals and letters, Goodwin explores his starry-eyed enthusiasm for the landmark civil rights and Great Society measures he helped bring about, and his disillusionment after he left the White House in 1965 and turned against Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. Goodwin credits him with nudging RFK into an antiwar position and, by orchestrating McCarthy’s New Hampshire primary victory, dissuading Johnson from running for reelection. She paints colorful vignettes of the speechwriter’s craft—“ ‘ask if he can’t put some sex in it.... some beautiful Churchillian phrases,’ ” Johnson demanded for a speech on poverty—and of Richard’s mercurial intellect, harnessed in groggy all-nighters spent penning celebrated orations like Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” speech. The narrative is dominated by larger-than-life personalities, especially the tenacious LBJ, who was determined to uplift the downtrodden by riding roughshod over anyone who objected. It’s a vivid portrait of peak liberalism. (Apr.)

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Book list Words matter. With their power to inspire, illuminate, instruct, and influence, the words a president or other prominent individual says at the right time can quell tension or encourage reform, embolden noble deeds or suppress destructive action. As speechwriter and advisor to JFK, RFK, and LBJ, Dick Goodwin wrote some of the most powerful speeches of the 1960s, a time when America was catapulting from the New Frontier to the Great Society and challenged by upheaval at home and abroad. Although he and Doris Kearns were moons orbiting the same political planets, they did not meet until 1972, when both were working at Harvard. Their adjacent experiences and shared passion for politics, justice, and the presidency was the foundation of a love that would last until Goodwin’s death in 2018. As befits all great researchers and eyewitnesses to history, the Goodwins collected a vast trove of archival material from their years as presidential advisers and authors, and it is this unparalleled source material that historian, biographer, and political commentator Kearns Goodwin mines to galvanizing effect in a memoir that purrs with beguiling intimacy and bubbles with effervescent appreciation for an exceptional marriage during more than four decades of profound mutual engagement with politics, social struggles, and each other.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The presidential biographer's renown will lure readers to her most personal book.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.