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"An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin delivers a biography, memoir, chronicle of her marriage, and history of the unbounded liberalism and tumult of the 1960s in a single volume. This is the author's most personal and reflective work of history, offering both new information and poignant inspiration.

Doris and her husband, Richard (Dick) Goodwin (1931-2018), were married for 42 years. Dick had collected more than 350 file boxes of historical documents during his career as a speechwriter to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and 1968 presidential candidates, Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

The couple had carted this enormous pile of data from home to home as they moved about the country. Despite the urging of his wife on many occasions, Dick refused to sort through the boxes. When he turned 80, he finally said he was ready to go through the mass of important letters, diaries, and notes to organize them. After Dick and Doris had gone through several file boxes, they realized they had a time capsule from the 1960s, a treasure trove of information about a pivotal decade in U.S. history. The book is a year-by-year chronicle of the historical events they experienced first-hand.

In his 20s, Dick Goodwin was one of the brilliant young men of John Kennedy's "New Frontier." The prodigy was one of the President's chief speechwriters. In his 30s, he crafted many of Johnson's speeches and policies, including the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which contains the renowned phrase of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome."

As they revisited the 1960s by sorting and organizing the memorabilia, they became reacquainted with Dick’s enthusiasm for Kennedy's "New Frontier," The Civil Rights Movement, and Johnson's "Great Society" that Dick helped name and design. They found records of Dick's repudiation of  Johnson's position on the Vietnam War, letters to LBJ stating his disillusionment with White House policies, and a copy of his 1965 letter of resignation to Johnson. After leaving the White House, Dick immediately turned to supporting presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. He credits himself for persuading RFK to take an anti-war stance and for dissuading LBJ from running for reelection.

Doris began working for Lyndon Johnson as a 24-year-old Harvard graduate student and then as a prestigious White House Fellows program winner. Johnson appreciated Doris' relational and writing skills. After the Johnson White House era, LBJ hired her to draft his memoir, "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream," which launched her career as a presidential historian.

Reflecting on their political careers and reassessing the countless events they witnessed, Doris writes: "America has been at odds with itself before. I've been drawn to such turbulent times—the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, World War II. This is the story of one of those times, of my husband and myself, and our generation shaped by the cataclysms of the 1960s. We see what historic opportunities were seized, what chances were lost, what light those years cast upon our own fractured time. 'The end of our country has loomed many times before,' my husband often reminded me, 'America's not as fragile as it seems.'"

If you are fascinated by the 1960s and the historical events of those years, you will want to read this book, told from the perspectives of two people immersed in the history of that era. It is a readable invitation to eavesdrop on a long marriage between two people with unusual access to presidential personalities and policies.

About the Author: Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize for "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II." She earned the Lincoln Prize for "Team of Rivals," the basis for Steven Spielberg's film "Lincoln," and the Carnegie Medal for "The Bully Pulpit," a record of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.




 

 

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