Book in the news: a dollop of secret sauce for CEOs

Cover of Leadership Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent TimesLeadership: Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent Times
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Penguin (£20)

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Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book is not her usual historical study – it interweaves stories from the lives of Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Lyndon Johnson in order to “detail leadership tips for non-political types”, says Kevin Krill on Bloomberg. The book focuses on a crisis each president faced: Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Theodore Roosevelt and the 1902 coal strike, FDR’s first 100 days and LBJ and the Civil Rights Act.

“Americans are strongly attracted to the idea that there are secret sauces,” says Niall Ferguson in The Sunday Times. So it’s a “safe bet” that Leadership “will soon sit on the nightstand of every CEO in the land and will be avidly read by the legion of ambitious young people who want their jobs”. But “if we’re serious about arriving at a general theory of leadership”, we’ll need more presidents than are examined here, and “some failures in the mix, too”.

Goodwin highlights her subjects’ common traits – preternatural persistence, a surpassing intelligence and a gift for storytelling – but “it is the differences among them that are most interesting”, says David Greenberg in The New York Times. Indeed, the book is at its best when the author “resists the urge to glean pat lessons or rules from the past and allows herself to savour the stubborn singularity of each moment or personality”. Still, one “can only hope that a few of Goodwin’s many readers will find in her subjects’ examples a margin of inspiration and a resolve to steer the country to a better place”.