From Publishers Weekly
Why, after major works by Robert A. Caro and Robert Dallek, do we need another biography of Lyndon B. Johnson? The answer is that Johnson was so complex that every new biographer willing to do the tough spadework of original research discovers fresh layers of Johnsonian reality to explain, new psychological and political corridors to explore. Such is the case with this excellent new work by University of Arkansas historian Woods (Fulbright, a Biography
). Woods finds Johnson's key motivation to be largely altruistic, emerging from righteous outrage over the poverty and racism he'd witnessed while growing up in Texas. Woods serves up a Johnson who is less cynical, less self-serving and more heroic and tragic than the man portrayed elsewhere. Woods's Johnson is a man who saw his greatest personal ambitions realized with the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and the Great Society programs. Not inappropriately, Woods concludes his eloquent and riveting account by quoting Ralph Ellison, who noted that Johnson, spurned at the end of his life by both liberals and conservatives, would "have to settle for being recognized as the greatest American President for the poor and for the Negroes, but that, as I see it, is a very great honor indeed." 16 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)
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Joining the two top LBJ biographies, multivolume affairs by Robert Dallek and Robert Caro, Woods' single volume evenhandedly condenses the complexities and controversies associated with the thirty-sixth president of the U.S. LBJ's legacies, such as Vietnam and the Great Society, lie beyond Woods' ambit, but within it are Johnson's family, social, and political background, which inclined him toward expansive and expensive efforts in foreign and domestic policy. Raised in the populist tradition, LBJ cut his political teeth as an all-out New Dealer. But he shrewdly knew that the ambitions he harbored for himself and American society would never be realized without placating conservatives of various kinds--economic, segregationist, or anticommunist. In this fact of Johnson's political life, which induced some to perceive him as a malodorous wheeler-dealer, Woods detects a remarkable consistency, an inwardly liberal LBJ whose outwardly moderate politics were an expression of his mastery of political calculus. Then there's the volatile LBJ, prone to self-pity, aggressiveness, and insensitivity. Woods illustrates this aspect of LBJ's personality most effectively through his relationship with Lady Bird, to whom he accorded respect, trust, and repetitive infidelity. Thorough, astute, and readable. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved