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James MacGregor Burns, historian, dies at 95

By From page A7 | July 16, 2014

BOSTON — James MacGregor Burns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and political scientist who analyzed the nature of presidential leadership and wrote candid biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, died Tuesday at 95.

Burns died at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts, his companion and fellow historian Susan Dunn said.

The longtime Williams College professor helped coin two adjectives now common in politics: “transformational” leaders, or those with a vision to change the world, and “transactional” leaders, those with the cunning to get things done.

The words were used constantly during the 2008 presidential race, with the “transactional” Hillary Rodham Clinton battling the “transformational” Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Burns was a liberal Democrat who both wrote about and participated in the political process. He was a convention delegate, congressional aide and congressional candidate who in the late 1950s became friendly enough with then-Sen. John F. Kennedy to be granted access for a 1960 biography that angered the family by portraying him as a man of excessive calculation and questionable heart.

His two-volume biography of Roosevelt was praised by historians as a model of accessible, objective scholarship. The second volume, “Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom,” was published in 1970 and won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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