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An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Hardcover – April 1, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805096728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805096729
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As we approach the golden anniversary of this landmark equal-rights and public-accommodations bill, veteran journalist Purdum painstakingly details how its passage came about. In short, not easily. Contributing editor of Vanity Fair and former White House correspondent for the New York Times, Purdum is well qualified to retell this epic from a fresh angle. The book is less for the specialist than for an audience that may be stimulated by anniversary-related publicity (or by recent congressional gridlock) to learn more. The Kennedy brothers’ initial resistance to aggressive civil rights legislation may surprise some readers. Lyndon Johnson’s immediate commitment to the cause, after assuming the presidency following JFK’s assassination, shouldn’t—others have established this convincingly. The diligent efforts of Senators Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey are recalled, but Purdum also emphasizes the crucial role played by Congressman William McCulloch (Republican). It is instructive to read about the hard work, passion, intense political negotiation, and collegial respect that went into the enactment of this historic legislation 50 years ago. --Mark Levine

Review

"[A] first-rate narrative … adding useful detail to previous accounts … Authoritative."—The Wall Street Journal

"Today’s reader will be startled, if not astonished, by how the bill made its way through Congress."—The Washington Post

"Purdum’s version of this story is excellent…. An astute, well-paced, and highly readable play-by-play of the bill’s journey to become a law."—The Atlantic

"A lively, informative account of the story behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964…. Purdum conveys a palpable sense of excitement akin to that created by Steven Spielberg in his recent film ‘Lincoln’ in describing how the bill’s backers finally broke the longest filibuster in Senate history."—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"[A] well-crafted narrative … The author’s assessment of the two presidents [JFK and LBJ] is insightful and nuanced." —The Miami Herald

"When we think back on the Civil Rights Act we naturally think of the role played by big figures who are familiar to us—such as Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Martin Luther King. But one of the great virtues of An Idea Whose Time Has Come is the way it brings some lesser-known people to the fore."—Vanity Fair

"An amazingly important book."—Rev. Al Sharpton, Morning Joe

"[A] valuable new book."—E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post

"A fascinating, blow by blow account."—All Things Considered, NPR

"The book reminds the nation that even the best-intentioned leaders remain flawed, because they are still human."—U.S. News & World Report

"[A] wonderful new history of the passage of the Civil Rights Act."— John Dickerson, CBSNews.com

"[A] great book … recounting the twists and turns that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act…. Todd Purdum’s An Idea Whose Time Has Come … [reads] today like breakneck drama … [and describes] in detail a time when the rules of the political road included bipartisanship, clever backroom dealing, and at the end of the day, moral suasion."—Gwen Ifill, Gwen’s Take, PBS.org

"[A] marvelous book."—The Diane Rehm Show, NPR

"One of the books of the year."—Mike Allen’s Playbook, Politico

"Purdum, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, skillfully recalls these men and their roles through the three sections of his history, which trace the bill through the administration to the House and finally the Senate."—The Boston Globe

"Purdum’s book [is] more necessary now than ever…. Purdum’s book is especially good at recounting how the struggle in the streets …galvanized politicians to push the bill past its last hurdles…. Purdum’s focus on each hard-won step in Congress keeps the story real and true, making the book an excellent resource on the legislation that, as the author says, ‘created the modern world.’"—Washingtonian

"Todd S. Purdum’s brisk … chronicle of [the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s] turbulent birth offers a salutary reminder that historic legislation is not easily achieved…As Purdum’s book vividly demonstrates, politics is a tricky, unpredictable, and occasionally dirty business."—The Daily Beast

"[Purdum] skillfully retraces the act through a legislative minefield…. Purdum composes portraits of civil rights icons including Martin Luther King Jr….but his most important contribution is reintroducing readers to largely forgotten heroes…. Readers who enjoy modern American historical narratives will be gripped by this title that is an excellent companion to Gary May’s Bending Toward Justice." —Library Journal (starred review)

"A riveting account of the hard-fought passage of ‘the most important laws of the twentieth century.’…Insightful and wholly mindful of the calculations that JFK and LBJ made at every step…A must-read."—Kirkus Reviews"As we approach the golden anniversary of this landmark equal-rights and public-accommodations bill, veteran journalist Purdum painstakingly details how its passage came about. In short, not easily…. It is instructive to read about the hard work, passion, intense political negotiation, and collegial respect that went into the enactment of this historic legislation 50 years ago."—Booklist"Purdum’s keen eye for the wide cast of Capitol Hill characters keeps the story lively."— Publishers Weekly

"An Idea Whose Time Has Come is brilliantly rendered and emotionally powerful – a riveting account of one of the most dramatic and significant moments in American history. The story Todd Purdum tells is absolutely mesmerizing."—Doris Kearns Goodwin

"Todd Purdum’s history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a masterful reconstruction of a seminal American event. He brilliantly captures the actors and drama that made this transformation in the country’s social relations a reality. Everyone interested in contemporary America will want to read this book."--Robert Dallek

"Todd Purdum brings alive Congress’s great historic achievement: the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The heroes are J.F.K. and L.B.J., but also those Midwest Republicans who stayed true to Lincoln. Those are the quietly eloquent stories here, the profiles in decency and guts, where members of Congress honored values greater than current popularity. An Idea Whose Time Has Come shows once again that the real action in American politics takes place in the back room – and in that quieter place: the beating hearts of the decent and courageous."--Chris Matthews

"In Todd Purdum’s gripping account of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we can see, from nearly every angle, how the federal government began making good on the ‘promissory note’ of equal rights that Dr. King had invoked at the March on Washington. Purdum provides both an invaluable education in the political process and a keen understanding of how personalities (the famous and the unsung) and the best of both parties overcame every roadblock to ‘make real the promises of democracy,’ as Dr. King had challenged."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"The story behind the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is one that all Americans should know. An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum’s insightful and elegantly written narrative, brings this history to life with deft portraits of the people who made the law and those who fought against it. It is a must read for all who are interested in the transformative power of the law and government to make positive changes in the lives of citizens."--Annette Gordon-Reed

"Todd Purdum’s remarkable An Idea Whose Time Has Come brings back to life the historic fight waged on behalf of civil rights by JFK and LBJ. Purdum is a superb writer, never dull, and his grasp of the Sixties milieu is foolproof. This is a marvelous and much needed book of lasting importance."--Douglas Brinkley

"Todd Purdum’s fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the birth of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a timely and hopeful reminder that sometimes the good guys do win, even in Washington."--Jeffrey Toobin


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Purdum's writing is good and the research for this book impressive.
CGScammell
It's great to have a book that brings together all of those mysterious goings on that I remember watching on the nightly news.
Wilhelmina Zeitgeist
Todd S. Purdum has written an excellent book about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
R. Schwenk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A seasoned journalist like Purdum (Vanity Fair, Politico, NY Times) is a good choice to write a book on a topic like this. He knows how to dig up facts and he uses them to tell a rousing story -of how our country finally got off its collective rear end and did something to actualize the words in the constitution about equal rights under the law, but also how hard and long a struggle it was to get it done, and how many players from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints were involved in accomplishing it.

The story has its dramatic arc ---accelerated protest and the pressure it placed on President and Congress, for action; a bipartisan coalition to pass a Civil Rights bill with teeth; the long, hard fight to pass a bill through a Congress without its being diluted out of existence; the welter of delaying actions in both houses but above all in the Senate.

Some of the heroes are people we don't usually think of and just as much Republicans as Democrats. A conservative Congressman from Ohio, Bill McCulloch (R-Ohio), was largely responsible for the crafting and eventual passage of a strong Civil Rights Bill through the House of Representatives. Charles Weltner was the only Congressman from Georgia to vote for the Civil Rights Bill of 1964: two years later, he left Congress rather than sign a loyalty oath to Georgia's segregationist governor. There's even evangelist Billy Graham, whose service for 35 thousand blacks and whites was held in Birmingham, Alabama, as the debate over the Civil Rights Bill was being waged in Congress -Purdum notes the lobbying efforts of the churches in this historic fight.

The details of the interplay among the most public actors in this intense drama is fascinating.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on March 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The answer is yes, with some minor qualifications.

Todd Purdum's "An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964" examines the legislative attempt to address the horrendous treatment of African-Americans, forced to live under Jim Crow rules in a segregated country. As the country began to witness protestors being sprayed with firehoses and attacked by dogs, it began to wake up to the horrors of a life not ever imagined possible in America.

First started by the Kennedy Administration, the president takes a little while to come on board with the issues. Purdum focuses more on the Attorney General during the early part of the book (whom interestingly he chooses to call Bob Kennedy, but not Robert or Bobby) and how, through conversations, begins to change his view on racism and racial realities of some of our country's citizens. Kennedy starts a Civil Rights Bill, whose progress is cut short by events in Dallas.

Enter LBJ, who had tried to warn Kennedy beforehand not to engage a civil rights bills before other measured due to the Senate's use of filibuster to stop any legislation deemed so controversial. As a tribute to Kennedy, he decides to maintain two bills going forward, a tax cut and the civil rights bill, despite advice to the contrary. Perhaps it was because of LBJ's knowledge of the ways of the capitol that allowed him to shepherd the bill through. Much of this story is covered, in somewhat different detail, in Robert Caro's book "The Passage to Power".

Purdum gives us a cast of characters that never becomes too much or too overwhelming, some names lost to the halls of history that deserve to be recognized for their work.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Louis Arata on April 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I received a free advanced reader's copy through GoodReads.

The book covers the complicated history of the Civil Rights Act, from the plans of the legislative branch through the debates in the House and the Senate. Purdum works well with a wide cast of actors, drawing their character and their history to give context to their political and social views. He's at his best when he focuses on a principle actor, such as Robert F. Kennedy, Ev Dirksen, and LBJ, but it's clear that the Civil Rights Act is not the brainchild of a single person. This was definitely a group effort, with lots of opinions and conflicts.

The topic is fascinating and culturally important, particularly when you compare it to the current workings of our government. It is amazing that anything ever gets done when so many people with such different opinions are involved.

But for all the importance of the subject, there are times that the book drags. Purdum drills down into minutiae, which is not always enlightening. I don't need to know where a senator went on vacation, only that he wasn't present for a vote. Also, I wanted more analysis and less narrative description, e.g., the Senate did this on this day, and on the next day did something else. Probably Purdum does a good job describing the machinery of the government, but I confess I couldn't always follow the process.

Overall, an important topic that I'm glad I got to learn more about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Susan Brophy McGowan on April 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Even though we all know the outcome of this epic legislative battle, the book reads like a novel. As someone currently involved in government relations and a former House, Senate and WH staffer, I found this book fascinating because it shows what can be accomplished with bipartisanship and courage. It should be assigned reading for every member of Congress.
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