Write Team: Telling an ‘unfinished love story’

Robert Cotner, Write Team

Having read all of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s splendid books on American history, I purchased upon publication last week her latest book, “An Unfinished Love Story” and read it.

The book is a kaleidoscope of the decade of the 60s and her final years together with her husband, Richard Goodwin, who was among the finest public intellectuals of our time.

Early on, Doris Kearns Goodwin tells of her meeting Dick Goodwin at Harvard where both had offices in the same building. When Dick’s wife died, he and Doris found each other’s company rewarding. Doris assumed care of Dick’s son, and very soon the two were married.

But the body of this new book is set 50 years later, when Doris is in her 70s and Dick in his 80s. They gathered daily around archival boxes, which Dick had annotated carefully and stored throughout his career. She uses the unpacking of these archival boxes in review to tell the story of Dick’s career.

She reviews the scandal of Charles Van Doren in the highly celebrated embarrassment on early television. Dick had been a staff member for an investigating committee, which exposed the program as a vast charade and one of TV’s first scandals.

The next boxes pertained to Dick’s inter-most workings and associations in the Kennedy years, when he was very close to John Kennedy and his family and worked as a protege under Kennedy’s close associate and writer, Ted Sorensen. Intimate portraits of family members and important events relating to the election of John Kennedy and his brief administration are recalled as they explore together his folders of papers and other documents carefully preserved by Dick.

With the tragic events in Dallas on June 22, 1963, and the assumption of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, Dick became Johnson’s primary writer, close associate and master craftsman of his finest speeches. Doris became Johnson’s personal intellectual collaborator, working in both Washington and Texas to help write his memoirs, create his presidential library and write a full-length biography of Johnson. She was a close personal friend of Lady Bird Johnson, and the Johnson’s two daughters. The exploration of the boxes stopped when Dick became seriously ill at 86 in 2018, thus interrupting their delightful love story.

Much different from her previous books, it is a multi-layered study of the 1960s. She utilizes autobiography, biography, social history, political history and philosophy, to tell a rich and detailed study of the Kennedy and Johnson eras.

This book is the unfinished love story between Doris and Dick Goodwin; it also is the unfinished love story for her country. She sites in conclusion from the text, written by Goodwin, LBJ’s Voting Rights Act in 1965: This act was signed in the midst “of a testing time,” which continues to this day, Goodwin adds, and we remain in the midst of it.

Author’s note: I read this book, as I do all books, in audio; this book is read by the author herself and utilizes audio recording of both Kennedy’s and Johnson’s speeches – adding a rich and vital dimension to the book.

Robert Cotner spent 25 years as an English teacher that include serving as Fulbright lecturer in English at the University of Liberia. He concluded his career as an executive at The Salvation Army and Shriners Children’s Hospital-Chicago. He now lives in Seneca.

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