From Publishers Weekly
This is the most revealing political memoir from a Washington insider since Katharine Graham's Personal History
. Launched into government out of Harvard Law School after a boyhood in middle-class Brooklyn, Califano (b. 1931) was a player in many of the key political conflicts of the past half-century. A "whiz kid" in Robert McNamara's Pentagon, he rose to be virtually "deputy president" for domestic policies under Lyndon Johnson. As a high-powered Washington lawyer during Nixon's administration, he represented both the Democratic Party and the Washington Post
during the Watergate crisis. As Jimmy Carter's secretary of health, education and welfare, he launched a controversial campaign against smoking, defended Title IX anti-sex discrimination rules on college sports and grappled with ethical issues like in vitro fertilization-indeed, a running theme of this frank autobiography is Califano's inner struggles to reconcile the demands of politics with the dictates of his Catholic upbringing. There are a few startling moments: a youthful Hillary Rodham cursing out Califano at a congressional hearing in 1970 (two years before applying for a job at his law firm); Califano advising his friend and White House chief of staff Alexander Haig to have Nixon burn the incriminating Watergate tapes; House Speaker Tip O'Neill warning Califano that tobacco firms were capable of having him murdered for his anti-smoking stand. LBJ, Post
publisher Katharine Graham and law partner Edward Bennett Williams emerge as Califano's heroes, while the portraits of Carter and New York governor Mario Cuomo are scathing. In sum, this is a revealing self-portrait filled with vivid scenes from four decades near the center of American government. 16 pages of b&w photos.
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Since he has already written about working for LBJ (The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson
, 1991), Califano sensibly shortens his White House days in this full-fledged review of his life. As his title announces, Califano has been part of Washington's lawyer-lobbying class: at his peak of influence in the 1970s, he was a partner of legendary lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and was President Jimmy Carter's first secretary of health, education, and welfare. Had Califano dwelt on political war stories, his memoir might have spoken only to Beltway cognoscenti, but a theme infrequently found among contemporary political memoirists distinguishes this one. It is the author's examination of his religion, Roman Catholicism, and its presence in his life alongside his roles in creating, managing, and advocating for the welfare state. He counts late 1950s Catholic discussion groups as influencing him to become a liberal Democrat and elsewhere talks revealingly about having his first marriage annulled and coping with cancer. From Vatican II to Watergate, Califano makes his recollections intimate and interesting. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved