Tag Archives: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?


There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.


There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015


A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer


Book Reviews











Books Reviewed Third Quarter

Books Reviewed Third Quarter

A bit of housekeeping:  here is a list of all the book reviews that appeared in this blog in Q3 2015.  Mostly new or recent releases, with a few old but good thrown in.


Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman 
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore  
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley 
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu 
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis 

Non fiction

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield 
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin 
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen 


Book Review: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Goodwin is America’s most famous historian, a Pulitzer Prize winner, who likes to write about Presidents and their families. Originally published in 2005, I hadn’t read it until this year, not least because of it’s weighty 750 pages!

ToR achieved mainstream fame in 2008 when Barak Obama reported reading it (a US President who reads books? Is that conceivable?), and further when he followed the model of Abraham Lincoln by embracing his principle rival, Hillary Clinton, into his cabinet.

The book also “inspired” a Hollywood movie, though I can’t say the movie is closely related to most of the book.

The book itself reflects Goodwin’s trademark style, focusing on the personal and professional relationships between Abraham Lincoln and his chief rivals for the Republican nomination of 1860. In this momentous year, the country shattered into civil war, triggered by Lincoln’s election. The stage is monumental, the cast of characters is larger than life—and it all really happened.

The “Team of Rivals” of the title is Lincoln’s cabinet, which he staffed with his electoral rivals, plus several other strong personalities.  Far from reflecting Lincoln’s own views, he pulled together a group with substantially conflicting views, They were not only rivals of the President, they were tussling with catch other–constantly.

Old Abe managed to work with all of them and get them to work together under his leadership. This is “the political genius” of Lincoln.

Through the book, Goodwin follows Lincoln from early life, early failures, through the election of 1860, and his administration, until his death. This story is familiar, and has been the subject of many, many books. Goodwin’s angle is to document Lincoln’s relationships with his cabinet members, as well as a number of important women in their circle.

Even though I know quite a little about the history of this time, I learned yet more about these important, but lesser known, individuals; and about Lincoln’s own leadership. Everything I have learned about Abraham Lincoln convinces me that he was a totally remarkable person, so many sigmas off the norm that we can’t even measure it. He’s clearly the most interesting and important US President, ever. Period.

We are also reminded that, no matter how brilliant Lincoln was, or how pivotal his contribution, he was operating is a messy and complex political, economic, and military situation. Both the North and the South were messy, partly democratic systems, with many players and a whole lot of incompetence and self-serving. Part of Abe’s genius was to pull the strings and levers of this machinery, and to select and work with effective people. In that, he beat his Southern counterparts hands down.

No one could be expected cover this giant field completely, and Goodwin is shallow and sketchy in many areas (e.g., she barely touches on the international dimensions of the war, or on the role of recent immigrants in the war, or the role of religion on both sides).  Her contribution is a fascinating and well researched examination of the larger than life personalities in Lincoln’s administration and circle.

And if this book inspired Mr. Obama to select Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State, it may have helped one of the greatest success stories of his Presidencies.  Whatever else you want to say about the Obama administration, “Secretary Clinton” worked well for both of them.  And Goodwin did that?  Match that, all you other historians?


  1. Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2005.


Sunday Book Reviews

2014 Year So Far (Housekeeping)

A housekeeping post, the year to date.  This will help me compile a year end summary.

Some Major Topics Discussed So Far in 2014

Some favorite old topics have appeared a few times:

  • The NSA Narrative
  • The “Future of Work” (and the future of workers)
  • Wearables and Personal Computing (including Google Glass)

A new topic has emerged. Originally, this was a side note to discussions of electronic trading. But the Cryptocurrency narratives have flourished, as has my own story about them. In particular, I have pointed out the way the basic technology supports multiple, radically different, cultural narratives. I have compared the “narrative” surrounding a number of cryptocurrencies, including:

  • Bitcoin
  • Dogecoin
  • Mazacoin
  • EtcCoin….

I think these posts need to be collected and organized into a solid essay on this topic.

Books Reviewed in Q1 2014


Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Crash by Guy Haley
Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
Ripper by Isabel Allende
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick
The Misfortune Cookie by Laura Resnick
Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey
Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker
When It’s A Jar by Tom Holt
Wikiworld by Paul Di Filippo


A Novel in a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist by Louise Doughty
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim
Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan
Knossos And The Prophets Of Modernism by Cathy Gere
Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth by Joseph Alexander MacGillvray
Mysteries Of The Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, And The Forging Of History by  Kenneth D. S. Lapatin
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Schliemann of Troy: treasure and deceit by David A. Traill
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons From A New Science by Alex Pentland
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times by Adrienne Mayor
The Lost Tomb by Kent Weeks
The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margaret Fox
Tone deaf and all thumbs?: an invitation to music-making by Frank R. Wilson
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud


Book Review: The Bully Pulpit

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

The latest book from America’s most famous historian, Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, centers on an amazing and not well-remembered episode in US politics.  The book is also amazingly timely, as many of the issues and dynamics are surprisingly familiar today, 100 years later.

The history examines the background and run up to the 1912 presidential election, which was, to say the least, a real barn burner.  The period also saw the rise and decline of the original “muckrakers”, deep and substantive journalism that not only reported social issues, but galvanized public opinion and political action.

The political history is a dual biography of two men, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, whose careers intertwined in a time when they made significant contributions to the transformation of the US into the twentieth century, and then parted ways and clashed in a disastrous final confrontation.  Goodwin examines the life and character of these remarkable men and their families and close friends in great detail.

Teddy Roosevelt is, of course, one of the most famous US Presidents.  Goodwin’s biography gives us even more reasons to admire him along with an understanding of his shortcomings.  Frankly, I did not really understand his relationship to the progressive movement, nor know of some of the radical ideas he entertained.

William Howard Taft is less known to most of us, except for his great girth.  From Goodwin, I learned a great deal that I did not know about Taft, and his role in the Roosevelt administration and progressive politics, and his many admirable personal qualities.  Goodwin also makes clear the intelligence and ambition of Nellie Taft, as well as the other women of the Taft and Roosevelt families and circle.

Of course, the key events of the story hang on the close friendship of these two men, who worked closely as political partners for many years.  When TR became president after the assassination of William McKinley (The popular but too-liberal TR had been buried in the office of VP with the intention to get him out of the way—oops!), Taft served in several capacities, including Secretary of War. Their friendship and trust was such that Roosevelt chose and anointed Taft as his successor, and helped achieve his election in 1908. I was not familiar with this relationship.

The third “party” in the story is the crew at McClure’s Magazine:  S. S. McClure, John Phillips, Ray Stanford Baker, William Allen White, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and others.  Goodwin examines the lives and characters of these folks, as well as the extraordinary collaboration at the McClure’s Magazine.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

These journalists emerged from the searing social problems of the Industrial 19th century, and wrote long, deeply researched, authoritative reports documenting the history and state of corporations and political powers, and the plight of ordinary people in the industrial state.  Targets included Standard Oil and the Rockefellers, US Steel, the railroads conglomerates, the meat packing industry, and, of course Wall Street.  Published in long serials in national magazines, the articles reached a significant portion of the population in this pre-electronic age.  Thier detailed expositions galvanized public outrage, to the extent that political action was taken.

The journalists, TR, and Taft all shared a desire to relieve suffering and beat injustice, through a variety of progressive political initiatives.  By today’s lights, their program is both audacious (they invented many things we take for granted, such as regulation of food and drug labels, for instance) and backwards (TR was, at heart, fairly conservative).

Goodwin also demonstrates the close relationship TR in particular developed with the press.  As a writer himself, he was friendly to them, but he also cultivated their opinions.  They served as intelligence sources for him, and, of course, could promulgate his messages based on close knowledge of his thinking.  It is charming to see these relationships, which would be so difficult in today’s wired environment, where everything is visible to everyone.  Imagine President Obama having a long, private lunch with, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin.  It would be all over the media, pretty much live.  Not much chance for either to really talk or learn.

For early twentyfirsters, it is ironic to read about the importance of the progressive wing of the Republican party at the turn of the last century.  Both Roosevelt and Taft were key figures in the initial development of what their party now sneers at as a “granny state”:  industrial regulation, food safety, limitations on working conditions, among other features of civilized life today. These and other progressive staples were created by these Republican administrations, over the resistance of big business and political bosses (of both major parties).

The climax of the narrative is almost classical tragedy.  Despite being TR’s chosen successor, TR grew dissatisfied with Taft.  Even Goodwin’s exhaustive text does not proved a simple reason for this rift.  Both policy and personal issues played a role, as did the intense ferment.  Bear in mind that Eugene Debs was running for President at the same time, and the Democratic Party’s most recent nominee was William Jennings Bryan.  Hot times in the old town, tonight!

The upshot was that, as Taft’s reelection campaign approached, TR moved to run against him. A still popular former president challenging a sitting president of the same party!  Whoa!  Did I not say, “Barn Burner”!!

Politically, Roosevelt mobilized the most progressive faction of the Republican party, to wage a brutal primary fight.  (In the course of this fight, the insurgents got nominating primaries established in a number of states—the beginning of the current nominating system in the US.)  In the end, Taft carried the Republican nomination, standing as the de facto “conservative” candidate, and with the help of the party machinery.

Reacting to the close and bitter nomination fight, TR decided to split with the Republican party, to create the Progressive Party, AKA The Bull Moose Party.  This set up the general election as TR made an energetic run against the incumbent Republican Taft, and the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson (himself a progressive by the lights of 1912), as well as Socialist Eugene Debs (a truly radical candidate). The Bull Moose Party enjoyed enthusiastic support from progressives, as well as TR enthusiasts, and was probably the most successful insurgent 3rd party effort in US history.  Predictably, though, splitting the Republican vote aided Wilson.  In fact, Taft finished third, while Wilson scored a landslide.

Goodwin’s book has additional interest to us today because so much of it is surprisingly contemporary.  We can see the dynamics of insurgency and moneyed political interests, party uprisings and catastrophic splits.  We read every day about radical populist insurgents assaulting the old guard, and can’t help wonder if the results will be similar to 100 years ago.

Many of the social and political issues are familiar today, and far too many are being relitigated by reactionary politicians.  The tactics of moneyed interests in 1900 are familiar today, with only slight technological modification.  In addition to flat out bribery and corruption, money could purchase Senate seats and legislatures, conservative courts blocked government actions supported by nearly everyone, and large corporations manipulated the press and politics directly and covertly.

It is always ironic that so many “conservatives” seem to have so little understanding of the past that they supposedly venerate.  The “less government” and states rights forces of 100 years ago were rejected by the progressive movement for moral, economic, and political reasons; and the progressive reforms made the US into the great power it was in the twentieth. Yet they are back again, attempting to roll back the laws to the 19th century.  Read the history to see what this would mean.

If you want to understand why “net neutrality” is important, and why the Comcast-Time Warner merger is a bad idea, read this book about how railroads and standard oil used their networks to stifle competition and soak the public.   If you want to understand why Citizen’s United was a really bad decision, read this book about how elections were don in 1900 (and then read about the 1972 election campaign).  If you want to know why there has to be a central bank and an income tax, read about how they came about.

Weighing in at over 750 pages, I feel a sense of great accomplishment having finished reading the whole book! I must say that there were sections that could have been edited more.  I realize that this is “real history”, not popular pap; but still, there was a lot of detail that honestly could have been left out without harming the story.

On the other hand, it is a truly epic story, and I’m happy to see a real scholar have space and time to produce this dreadnought.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism, Doris Kearns Goodwin,