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Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America (.) Hardcover – January 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. King's leadership of the Civil Rights movement catalyzed a revolution in public consciousness that Johnson's matchless political skills cemented in the landmark voting and civil rights laws of the 1960s. In this engrossing narrative history, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Kotz (A Passion for Equality) follows their tense but fruitful working relationship from Johnson's assumption of the presidency in 1963 to King's assassination five years later. Theirs was a wary partnership, uneasy when they joined forces against Jim Crow in the wake of Kennedy's assassination, strained by King's opposition to the Vietnam War and continually undermined by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who bombarded Johnson with reports of King's links to Communists and of his sexual indiscretions. In Kotz's sympathetic but complex and critical assessment, the Machiavellian politician and the visionary activist become almost brothers under the skin—both genuine idealists and cool-headed, at times even ruthless political strategists, both plagued by inner demons that threatened to undo their agenda. Employing newly available telephone conversations and FBI wiretap logs, among other sources, Kotz's detailed and gripping account takes readers into the bloody trenches of the Civil Rights movement and the bitter congressional floor battles to get legislation past the segregationist bloc. It is a fascinating portrait of two leaders working at a time when the low skullduggery of politics really was infused with the highest moral values. Photos.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics agree that the strength of Judgment Days lies in its new approach to an old story. One detractor found the account stale at times, complaining that the section on Vietnam seemed like a rehash. Most readers, however, focused less on the familiarity of Kotz’s source material and more on the remarkable insight he brings to a tense relationship. Judgment Days is not an exposé, but rather a personal and psychological approach to an oft-analyzed political moment. Kotz deserves particular praise for his deep examination of Johnson, who emerges from Judgment Days as a man of serious flaws but monumental courage.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: .
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; New title edition (January 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618088253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618088256
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,178,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James Schuyler on March 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary re-creation of a particularly important time in American history. For those of you who lived through that era, this book offers significant new information as well as provides a vital context for understanding the interaction of legislation and civil rights activities. Both President Johnson and Rev. King emerge as sympathetic and complex and conflicted--yes, real people. Hovering over the book is the evil and vicious J. Edgar Hoover--and at times the book reads like a thriller with a tangled web of relationships among the three actors. For those of you for whom this era is ancient history, there is much to learn here about federal civil rights legislation and the civil rights movement. It may lead you to read more about the 1960's, and Kotz provides an extensive bibliography of some of the best books on a broad range of subjects. In any event, this is a great read which will get you thinking and perhaps even motivate you to action to promote equal rights.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on March 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Johnson became so excoriated during the Vietnam period that history sometimes forgets his heroic moment, with Martin Luther King as his uneasy ally, of passing the greatest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Notz' excellent account brings out the suspense in Johnson's shrewd handling of the legislative arcana required to defeat the racist politicians entrenched in Washington (still there to this day). Moving rapidly in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, Johnson and King seem briefly in tune until their ways diverge in the deepening of the Vietnam fiasco. In the background is the insidious J. Edgar Hoover trying to sabotage King and manipulate Johnson. Even now these revolutionary gains seem like a near miracle, and we could obviously make the mistake of thinking racism has gone away or that the forces of racist reaction have been permanently defeated. Johnson in this portrait comes across as a flawed hero, seizing the moment, contradicting his own past, to wrench the stuck system toward its desperately delayed promises of equality.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on June 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Though Kotz is writing about oft-covered material, this book comes across as a fresh and vital examination of the relationship of two of the most important figures of the previous century. He spends a lot of time going over well known facts but also highlights the personalities of these two men. The portraits that emerge are quite interesting. MLK comes across as a man committed to change and--despite minor flaws--as the hero he was.

More surprising is Kotz take on LBJ, who comes across as equally committed to change and righting wrongs. Kotz argues that LBJ always displayed a commitment to improving the lot of the poor. Though he does not explain LBJ's early votes against civil rights, he argues that his eventual support of major civil rights legislation had its roots in his desire to help the disadvantaged, like those he grew up with in the Hill Country of Texas.

While stressing that both men were brilliant leaders, Kotz does not shy away from their flaws--of which LBJ had many. Most interesting is his take that both hoped to accomplish significantly more in the realm of abolishing poverty when their efforts were cut short--LBJ's by the morass of Vietnam and MLK's by a bullet. Ultimately this was a great read and should serve to hold those readers over who are eagerly awaiting the years-away release of Robert Caro's next LBJ volume.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Charles H. Warner on January 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Judgment Days is riveting history and journalism--a real page turner about two fascinating, larger-than-life characters that come to life as in no other book I've read about Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King, Jr. Best of all, you'll hate J. Edgar Hoover more than you ever did and like Johnson and King better than you ever did.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DAVID S JACKSON on February 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is without a doubt one of the best historical books I've ever read. The author has a dramatic story, fronted by three fascinating and complex characters in LBJ, MLK and J. Edgar Hoover.

Good writing and an eye for interesting details push this book over the top. Nick Kotz does an outstanding job laying out the ambitions of both Johnson and King, and the challenges they faced in trying to find a middle ground that wouldn't cost them the support of either blacks or whites in achieving their aims.

Many legendary stories exist of Johnson's "treatment" imposed on politicians in an effort to get legislation passed. But King had to do equally hard work in forging a consensus between two diverging wings of the black leadership in the civil rights movement. Both men experience triumphs, but in the end come across as admirable but tragic figures, like something out of Shakespeare. Johnson decides not to seek a second term as president, faced with a divided nation over the war in Vietnam (which King openly criticized him on, to the president's feelings of betrayal and anger). King was killed just days after Johnson made his intentions known to the country. On a positive note, those two events, Kotz argues, helped bring about a third major piece of civil rights legislation that provided for open housing.

It's always a great compliment to a book when it compels you to want to read more on a subject. Having read this, I want to learn more about both Johnson and King and hear other perspectives on the civil rights movement and the 1960s, a decade I was born too late to experience. The book also forced me to think about the state of race issues in the country today.
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