From Publishers Weekly
Part of the admirable American President Series, edited by Peters, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Sean Wilentz, this concise biography continues the rehabilitation of the man who served as the 36th President of the United States. Peters, a former member of Johnson's administration, asserts that Johnson, raised in the nasty world of Texas politics, remained ruthlessly dedicated to his own advancement and became a great, if flawed, statesman. Congressman Johnson's work ethic and fawning charm appealed to FDR in 1930s Washington, but in 1948, power took priority, leading Johnson toward conservatism upon entering the Southern-dominated Senate. Despite his brilliance as majority leader during the '50s, few took his presidential ambitions seriously and the 1960 offer to be Kennedy's running mate was viewed as his only hope. But after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson transformed himself again, this time into a compassionate reformer. His Medicare and anti-poverty legislation closed out the Roosevelt era, and his civil rights bills (considered hopeless under Kennedy) made him the greatest benefactor of African-Americans since Lincoln. Although Peters details Johnson's Vietnam debacle with new insight, readers will still take away a vividly positive understanding of this president's accomplishments.
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In the only hostile entry thus far in the American Presidents series, Elizabeth Drew questioned Nixon’s moral fitness to be president. Given Lyndon Johnson’s early election-stealing and sycophancy in New Deal Washington, later boorish and cruel treatment of subordinates, constant womanizing, and sense of inferiority that made him unreasonable about Vietnam—all of which Peters admits without hesitation—many may ask the same about Nixon’s immediate predecessor. Not Peters, who cuts Johnson so much slack for being a consummately skilled political maneuverer—the majority leader’s majority leader, as it were—that he is wont to think that, but for Vietnam, Johnson would be considered one of the greatest presidents. After all, Peters points out, LBJ’s domestic legislative achievement is second only to FDR’s. And there, for critics, is the rub. They feel that, while LBJ’s domestic goals were laudable, the laws he bullied through to meet them were deeply flawed and sowed the seeds of entitlement politics. Peters doesn’t acknowledge that such a critique exists. He convinces us, however, that the challenges Johnson faced required a great president. --Ray Olson