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Lyndon B. Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 36th President, 1963-1969 Hardcover – June 8, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805082395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805082395
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For aging American baby boomers, the presidency of Lyndon Johnson brings back painful memories. Johnson (1908 -- 1973) became the 36th president on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of President John Kennedy. He is known for his escalation of the War in Vietnam and for the tumultuous period of unrest in the United States which followed in its wake.

Charles Peters offers a portrayal of Johnson, in all his complexity, in his recent short biography in the American Presidents Series edited by the late Arthur Schelsinger Jr. and by Sean Willentz. The books in this series give valuable short introductions and assessments to each of our presidents. Several of the volumes, including this biography of Johnson, are not mere summaries but rather offer and informed and challenging perspective in their own right. A political insider. Peters edited the "Washington Monthly" for 32 years, and he has written a book about "How Washington Really Works" and a book about the Republican nomination of Wendell Wilkie for president in 1940.

Peters gives much space to Johnson's life before he became president. The background he offers is essential to understanding the man. Born to poverty in rural Texas, Johnson struggled to afford and to graduate from Southwest Texas State Teachers College. His ambition and domineering personality showed as a young man, and Johnson early proved adept in learning to network. In 1931, Johnson became a staff assistant to Representative Richard Kleberg and, with a short two-year interlude, he would remain in Washington, D.C. until the conclusion of his presidency.

After an intense courtship, Johnson married the well to do Lady Bird Taylor. During their long marriage, he was frequently unfaithful to her.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A useful, brief biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This is one in a series, called "The American Presidents." They are all rather short, designed to be accessible to lots of people who might not want to wade through a 600 page biography. That is both the strength and the weakness of this series. One gets a "quick and dirty" introduction to the presidents, but at the cost of depth.

Each reader must determine if the tradeoff is worth it.

At that, this is an interesting addition to the series. The author takes a rather sharp-eyed view of Johnson, discussing both his strengths and his more problematic elements. It attempts to make sense of his life and is honest in its view of Johnson. The volume discusses Johnson's womanizing, his hardball politics (including a key disputed election), his deviousness, his sometimes excessively hard as nails relationship with his staff. The book also notes the impressive litany of legislative successes--whether in his role as Senate Majority Leader or as President. Indeed, his legacy is quite impressive. But the book also notes the issue that dogged him and ended his presidency--Vietnam.

All in all, a useful work, despite its brevity.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rule 62 Ken on September 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Charles Peters successfully crafts an effectively concise biography of the paradoxical Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man who is sometimes kind and compassionate, sometimes a narcissistic bully. Peters lays out the many dimensions of the man, beginning with his childhood, the influence of his parents, his political career, the trials and tribulations of his presidency and his brief retirement.

Despite the book's paucity, Peters is able to give the reader both the big and small pictures. Johnson's drive to bring about the Great Society is explained, as well as a detailed account of how Johnson was dragged into the Vietnam quagmire, and how he waded in deeper and deeper even as it became more and more apparent that this was a fight he couldn't win.

Peters also explores the unseemly side of Johnson, including his extra-marital dalliances and his belittling and humiliating treatment of his staff. A skilled writer, Peters is able to broach those subjects without succumbing to sensationalism or a trashy tabloid journalism style.

I recommend this book as a wonderful account of the life of a complicated man, showing warts and all, but leaving the reader with a new appreciation for Johnson's goals and ambitions and for all that he was able to accomplish, especially in the field of civil rights. If you've wondered why many historians include Johnson in the list of great presidents, this book will help you to understand why. If Lyndon Johnson does not strike you an an interesting president before you read that book, you opinion will be significantly changed by this delightful biography.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Charles Peters' `Lyndon Johnson' is a short (161 page) book in a series on the American presidents. It is not always a very flattering assessment of him as a person, but always as a top politician; perhaps that and the legislation passed during his term is why he is given the appraisal that he will be ranked high in the evaluation of American leaders.

There are a few pages devoted to Lyndon`s background and what life was like in rural Texas in the early 1900`s. His interest in politics seems to begin with his father and in his college years. The move to Washington and the building of an almost unmatched political network are well accounted for.
There are many unflattering incidents described, from the time he was awarded a silver star for just being a passenger in a B-26 that was attacked in the Pacific during WWII and none of the crew acknowledged, his syncopating brashness when needed or his ultimate humility ("there could be no such thing as too much sucking up") to reach his goals even the size of office he deemed he deserved, to his treatment of friends and political acquaintances.
One of the best descriptions in the book occurs in summing up the atmosphere of returning WWII veterans who just wanted a' Father's Knows Best' - white picket fence life after the drama and danger of the war and the political climate that created.. The time of Kennedy's assassination and the many incidents and conflicts with the Kennedy`s are included..
Of course the guilt and horror of the Kennedy assassination contributed to some of Johnson's success in getting legislation passed; but the legacy of the many bills and programs such as The War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare cannot be forgotten.
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Lyndon B. Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 36th President, 1963-1969
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