Presidential Biographies discussion

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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message 1: by Elyse (last edited Mar 25, 2018 01:37PM) (new)

Elyse (sjpeachy) | 13 comments I have to share this story with a group of people who understand the significance. Last year my friends and family really didn't understand my excitement when I told them I had a chat with Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am semi-retired and for extra money I work as a hotel clerk at a local Courtyard. My hotel is within the boundaries of Rowan University in NJ. Last year was the 50th anniversary of when LBJ met with Premier Kosygin of the Soviet Union on campus back when Rowan U was still Glassboro State College. For the anniversary the university invited Mrs. Goodwin to be the keynote speaker. And she was going to stay at my hotel. I only found out the day before and since it was Sunday the Barnes & Noble down the block was closed for the evening. Since I couldn't buy a new copy I decided to just take to work the next morning a battered old paperback copy of No Ordinary Time. I had picked it up at a library booksale in anticipation of reading it one day. I hoped she would check in early so I could meet her. Luckily she checked in an hour before my shift ended (I recognized her from watching the Ken Burns series "Baseball".)

Mrs. Goodwin didn't have an escort so I had her all to myself. After I did all her paperwork and made her keys I told her "I need you to sign one more thing" and whipped out my book from under the counter. She really laughed. I told her about my presidential biography reading project. At the time I was on the second volume of Peter Wallner's Franklin Pierce biography. Mrs. Goodwin said, "I don't know much about Franklin Pierce. All I remember is he had a son die in a train wreck." I said, "That's right!" (Later I thought to myself it was pretty presumptuous of me to verify a Pulitzer prizewinner's knowledge. Hahahaha). She was charming. She took the time to talk to me, a hotel clerk, after traveling all day and was probably tired.

My friends and family were much more excited when I told them I checked in Art Garfunkel one evening. He was nice too. But not the rockstar I consider Doris Kearns Goodwin. The sad thing is I haven't read any of her books yet. I need to get busy. I read A. Lincoln by Ronald White instead of Team of Rivals. I wanted to read a FULL biography and not a book about one short period in Lincoln's life.

Does anyone else have a story to tell about a favorite presidential biographer? I'd love to read about it.


message 2: by James (new)

James Keenley (jkeenley) | 23 comments That's a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it with us!


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 32 comments Ditto on James' comment!


message 4: by Jeff (new)

Jeff (murainman) | 8 comments LOL that is great! Did it not come up that you hadn't even read the book you handed her or any other? Like, "Which is your favorite?" I have only read one of hers, but hopefully No Ordinary Time will be the end of this year or the beginning of next year for me.

Do NOT shy away from Team of Rivals--it is one of my favorite prez bios so far (I just finished Cleveland). It is a full bio, though it is also a mini-bio of several of the men in Lincoln's circle, but that is exactly why I loved it. The lives of the people who surround us are also part of our story. The only things I really got from White's book (Lincoln is the only president for whom I've read more than one bio so far) were trivial facts that I could have lived without or already knew from other sources.


message 5: by Jeff (new)

Jeff (murainman) | 8 comments As for something I can share, I don't have a brush with celebrity like yourself, but I will share my introductions to the presidential biography mission: A trip to Washington DC in 2010 and a book suggestion from my local library.

The DC trip was mostly planned by my wife, and was a follow-up for me to a family vacation I had as a kid, when I was too young to really appreciate the history. This time was quite emotional, as we started at the Holocaust Museum (that wasn't there the last time), went to Arlington, and took a stroll through the Pentagon 9/11 memorial. We also got a White House tour which was amazing. I had always respected the presidency, and to some degree at least, all the brave souls who have taken the job of Commander in Chief. I loved seeing where they lived (or at least entertained). Finally we took a walking tour one night through parts of the city that followed the course of the immediate investigation after Lincoln's murder. Many important sites are within several blocks of each other, including the hotel where Johnson was supposed to be assassinated, and the home on Lafayette Square where Seward was attacked. For me, that tour clinched it: I had to learn more about the presidents. If anyone's never been to DC, make the pilgrimage. It is like literally walking through a history book.

When I got home, and a year or two later, I finally decided to start the presidential biography trek. When my library announced on Facebook that it would give suggestions if you shared books or authors you liked, I told them what I was about to start and asked for an introductory book to any of the presidential biographers. They suggested for me David McCullough's Johnstown Flood or The Great Bridge, and I chose the latter. At the end I thought, "Wow, anyone who can make the politics, finances, and engineering behind the building of a bridge interesting, is really a great author." My #2 POTUS bio was John Adams.

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough The Johnstown Flood
The Great Bridge The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
John Adams by David McCullough John Adams by David McCullough David McCullough


message 6: by Houston (new)

Houston (hc3baby) | 9 comments Elyse wrote: "I have to share this story with a group of people who understand the significance. Last year my friends and family really didn't understand my excitement when I told them I had a chat with Doris Ke..."

so so cool!!

I used to work on campus at Vandy & got to sit in on Jon Meacham's class twice, once when Al Gore was guest speaking!! I was freaking out I was so excited.

What is your Presidential biography project? Love to follow along!


message 7: by Elyse (new)

Elyse (sjpeachy) | 13 comments Hello Houston - I read a biography about George Washington back in 1993. My ex-mother-in-law commented "Since you found it so interesting maybe you should read a biography about every president." That's the only time I ever listened to her advice and I'm glad I did. I decided to read them chronologically. I'm now finishing up a biography of James Garfield. I'm to the point where he's just been elected. Since he was shot 5 months after taking office I only have about 100 pages left.

I read about two presidential biographies a year. I am interested in so many things - including good fiction - that I often digress. I better not dilly dally too much. I'm not a spring chicken any more and I'd really like to finish my project in this lifetime.


message 8: by Houston (new)

Houston (hc3baby) | 9 comments love it, Elyse! I just listened to a podcast yesterday that talked about Garfield. The guy said that Garfield showed up at the Republican (was he? I can't remember) National Convention as one of the candidate's campaign managers and walked out the overall nominee. According to this guy Garfield was also very against slavery & this guy thinks had he not gotten shot it would've given fast forwarded civil rights by like 70 or 80 years.

Here's the podcast if you ever wanted to listen to it: https://armchairexpertpod.com/pods/ja...


message 9: by Elyse (new)

Elyse (sjpeachy) | 13 comments Houston wrote: "love it, Elyse! I just listened to a podcast yesterday "

Thanks for the podcast. I will listen to it. Yes, Garfield was Republican.

Garfield was no angel according to the biography I'm now finishing. But he wasn't a bad guy either. Pretty much a normal human being. I don't know if he would have had a forceful enough personality to get his race equality policies accepted by the South. In this regard Andrew Johnson did so much damage during his presidency it made it almost impossible for Grant, Hayes or Garfield to straighten things out. I wish Lincoln had chosen ANYBODY except Johnson for his vice-president. To me it's ironic that the president most responsible for advancing civil rights years later was also named Johnson (LBJ).


message 10: by Houston (new)

Houston (hc3baby) | 9 comments good point as to the Johnson irony. Which biography are you finishing?


message 11: by Elyse (new)

Elyse (sjpeachy) | 13 comments Houston wrote: "good point as to the Johnson irony. Which biography are you finishing?"

Hello Houston - I just finished Garfield by Allan Peskin. Now I have to choose whether to stay with Garfield a bit longer by reading Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard (a popular bestseller about Garfield's assassination) or move on to Chester A. Arthur.


message 12: by Jeff (new)

Jeff (murainman) | 8 comments Elyse wrote: "I just finished Garfield by Allan Peskin. Now I have to choose whether to stay with Garfield..."

I also read Peskin's Garfield (the author died in 2018). I own Destiny of the Republic but have not read it yet.

Why do you say Garfield was no angel? I don't recall exactly a reason for that analysis, but it's been a while since I've read it. And if I'm being honest, I would say few of our presidents were angels. :)


message 13: by Elyse (new)

Elyse (sjpeachy) | 13 comments I was referring to his adulterous affair. It was a brief dalliance. According to Peskin, he was in NYC awaiting his assignment in the Civil War. He was a citizen general and apparently the army had too many of them at the time. The affair was probably due to having too much time on his hands.

Americans don't bat an eye at this behavior anymore. Although I don't think President Obama or the Presidents Bush were ever unfaithful. That's just the impression I get.


message 14: by Houston (new)

Houston (hc3baby) | 9 comments Elyse wrote: "Houston wrote: "love it, Elyse! I just listened to a podcast yesterday "

Thanks for the podcast. I will listen to it. Yes, Garfield was Republican.

Garfield was no angel according to the biograph..."



good word, Elyse.


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