Reviews:Doris Kearns Goodwin’s second act - By Alex Beam

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Doris Kearns Goodwin’s second act

By Alex Beam

9/06/05 Globe Link

Because she has a charming personality, because she has powerful friends, and not least of all because she writes like a dream, Doris Kearns Goodwin will embark on her forthcoming book tour with a high degree of confidence that readers, reviewers, and interviewers have forgotten the errors of attribution that landed her in the History Doghouse.

The success of her new book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” is assured. Goodwin’s canned author profile for her speaking engagements, available at washingtonspeakers.com and linked from doriskearnsgoodwin.com, already hails “Rivals” as “her best selling book,” even though it doesn’t go on sale for 2 Ѕ weeks.

Goodwin’s reintroduction into polite society – “We don’t think she ever left polite society,” her Simon & Schuster spokeswoman, Elizabeth Hayes, says – officially begins with her Oct. 25 appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show.” (Goodwin is an NBC news analyst.) That will be followed by appearances on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press,” and so on.

Every successful rehabilitation needs a rambling, empathetic, exculpatory-but-not-apologetic interview. The classics in the genre are Prince Charles’s “opening up” to Jonathan Dimbleby, Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s televised emoting with Martin Bashir, and the Richard Nixon-David Frost jawfests of yesteryear. Although officially not doing interviews until her book comes out, Goodwin did spend considerable time speaking with writer Thomas Mallon for a lengthy feature in the November issue of Atlantic Monthly. From Goodwin’s point of view, it was time well spent.

Mallon is the author of what he calls a “Draconian” book on plagiarism, “Stolen Words.” But if he asked Goodwin any Draconian questions about her own problems, they are hardly in evidence in his article. Instead he focuses primarily, dreamily, on the redemptive power of Lincoln scholarship. Proclaiming himself “long since sick of the subject of plagiarism,” Mallon speculates that Lincoln may protect Goodwin during her book tour “with his capacity for seeing transgression in proportion to something better.”

The whole sorry history of Goodwin’s transgressions can be reviewed at the History News Network website, hnn.us. (Search for “Historians on the Hot Seat.”) Although many fair-minded people see Goodwin as an inadvertent copier at best, I see a different pattern: an understandable reluctance to talk about the settlement paid to author Lynne McTaggart for “borrowing” from her work. A lack of contrition. The assertion that, of her work, only “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys” had attribution problems. Then when the Los Angeles Times demonstrated similar problems with Goodwin’s Franklin Roosevelt book, “No Ordinary Time,” her lawyer angrily accused the paper of practicing “junk journalism.” A group of historians headed by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. conceded that she made mistakes but that they “resulted from inadvertence, not intent.”

In the midst of her troubles in 2002, Goodwin announced to The New York Times that she had asked Simon & Schuster to pulp all paperback copies of the tainted “Fitzgeralds” book so that she could publish “a thoroughly corrected edition this spring.” But on Monday, I bought a new paperback copy of “Fitzgeralds” that had no sign of any corrections. “We did exactly what we said we were going to do,” says Simon & Schuster’s Hayes. “We did pull all our copies as promised. We weren’t aware that other copy [from St. Martin’s Press] was out there.”

The promised corrected edition of “Fitzgeralds” may be forthcoming after Goodwin finishes her current book tour, Hayes says.

Goodwin’s publicity blitzkrieg includes a visit to “The Daily Show.” I would love to see Jon Stewart prop up her book on his desk, as he often does with authors, and then swivel his chair toward his guest, sitting demurely on the couch. In my imagination, Stewart asks: “So, Doris, tell me – how much of this did you write yourself?”

A man can dream, can’t he?

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

- Posted 10-15-05

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