One Final Comment on Doris Kearns Goodwin

I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed in Eric Wittenberg’s post on plagiarism.  It is disturbing that such high-profile writers are being exposed as guilty of what is at bottom a silly and dishonest practice.  In the end it is a reflection of character.  As Ken Noe mentioned in a comment on Eric’s site the worst part is the effect it is having on college students.  I can say the same in reference to the high school level.   I would of preferred to have seen Doris Kearns Goodwin take responsibility for her past mistakes.  My guess is that most of her readers would have maintained their loyalty and given her another chance.  I have done so even without the admission of guilt and the reason I’ve done so is that it easy to check up on her and no doubt scores of people have already gone through Team of Rivals looking for problems.  We all deserve second and maybe even third chances. 

The other day I was browsing in my local bookstore in the American history section when an elderly woman and a store employee walked down the aisle looking for a copy of Goodwin’s book.  The customer mentioned that many of her friends had read and enjoyed the book.  This woman bought the book and no doubt will read it and also enjoy it.  My point is that whether you are disappointed with Goodwin’s behavior or not her book on Lincoln is being read by many people around the country.  As I’ve stated before I don’t believe the book sheds any new light on Lincoln, but it is well written and for someone who knows little about  Lincoln and the Civil War it is a great place to start.  I say this given the quality of the overall percentage of Civil War studies currently on the market.  Most of these books are poorly researched and poorly written.  In other words, I would rather people read Goodwin than at least 80% (perhaps even higher) of the rest of the books currently available.  Americans don’t read much and if Jay Leno’s humorous segments on historical literacy are any measure they read even less about this nation’s past.  If Goodwin’s books fall into the hands of people who don’t typically read history than I say more power to her.

1 comment… add one

  • Cash May 2, 2006

    Kevin,

    I’ve been reading _Team of Rivals,_ and it’s an outstanding book. No, there isn’t anything really new about Lincoln here, but there is a ton of information on Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, William Seward, and their families that is compiled in one place for what I believe is the first time. I find it entirely enjoyable and absolutely magnificent.

    I’m certain you’re right that there are several people checking up on Ms. Goodwin’s writing on this book regarding her past problem with plagiarism. In fact, while reading the portion dealing with the meeting Lincoln had with the Senate’s so-called “Committee of Nine” regarding Seward, which eventually led to Chase submitting his letter of resignation, I thought some of it sounded very much like something I had read previously. I checked it against David Donald’s _Lincoln_ and the description in Bruce Catton’s work, and while it was fairly similar due to using the same sources, it was different enough so that I’m comfortable there was no plagiarism involved. I think Ms. Goodwin’s work will have to bear such scrutiny from now on, as there will be those who will check any passages that look familiar in the future.

    Regards,
    Cash

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