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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade Paperback – October 17, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (October 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318555
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A portrait of two great 20th-century politicians at loggerheads.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An extensive, minutely detailed analysis of the Lyndon B. JohnsonRobert F. Kennedy mutual-fear-and-loathing society. Entire books have been written examining Lyndon Johnson's presidency in which Robert F. Kennedy is but a very minor player. In his book, Shesol filters Johnson's entire vice-presidential and presidential careers through the lens of his hatred of Robert Kennedy and RFK's reciprocal contempt for Johnson. In his first book, Shesol, a political cartoonist, sets out to prove that from 1959 to 1968 both Kennedy and Johnson made ``few important decisions without first considering'' their mutual contempt, which was ``the defining relationship of their political lives.'' Shesol offers a mountain of evidence to buttress these original claims. The book is filled to overflowing with detailed reconstructions of many of the political actions RFK and LBJ took. Shesol is correct- -to a very limited degree. The two men hated each other viciously, and their hatred had an impact on some of their political decisions. Those facts are well documented here and elsewhere. But Shesol does not come close to proving that the mutual hatred was a key factor in Johnson's presidency or in Kennedy's political career. Shesol claims, for example, that Johnson's Vietnam War policymaking, by mid-1967, was ``inextricably bound to the Johnson-Kennedy feud.'' The feud had some impact, but Shesol either ignores or cursorily mentions the many other, much more crucial factors. They include the intransigence of the Vietnamese communists, the weakness of our South Vietnamese ally, pressures from the American Joint Chiefs and from conservative Republicans, threats from China, and Johnson's strong desire to win the 1964 election and, later, enact his Great Society programs. A myopic portrait of two powerful politicians that all but ignores any actions other than their spiteful, petulant, petty personal feuding. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Jeff Shesol is the author of "Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court" and "Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade." He was a speechwriter in the Clinton administration and lives in Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

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Once again, too many names, facts, assumptions.
just my opinion
'Mutual Contempt' is an apt description as well as a vivid perspective of the Johnson Presidency and the turbulent Sixties.
Dan Bonk
Overall I liked this book....yes it was long but a very good read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
Given the recent market for books about LBJ, the consistent market for Kennedy books, and the play the LBJ-RFK relationship gets in almost every book about either man (and about JFK), it's surpising that no one has tackled this subject in a book before.
But, as good as this book is, one has to wonder if it's really worth the 500+ pages Shesol devotes to it. (Chris Matthews covered the just as interesting JFK-Nixon relationship in his much shorter, more piquant book "Kennedy & Nixon.) Shesol goes to some length to justify this book's subtitle -- "the feud that defined a decade" -- but doesn't really succeed. Say what you will about either LBJ or RFK, but both were far too canny politically to let their personalities completely overpower the events of the 1960s.
This book is comprehensively researched, sensitive, clear-headed, and impressive...just as you would expect from an academic history paper, which is what the genesis of this book was. But for all that, this book lacks the narrative force, drive, and passion that, say, Robert Caro is likely to bring to this topic when he covers it in his comprehensive, controversial series of "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" books--which are recommended to readers who like this story.
Especially early in this book, Shesol goes off on tangents (for example, on William Manchester & Jackie Kennedy) which might impress a history professor but aren't really necessary in this depth in this type of book.
Readers interested in RFK in particular should check out a very underrated RFK book by Jules Whitcover called "85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy."
Readers can argue forever who, in the end, Shesol likes better. My vote says RFK, but that's far from certain, and it really doesn't matter anyway. Enjoy this book for what it is - a good, somewhat dry, tackling of a subject that is both more simple and more complex than Shesol says.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
What comes to the fore in this book is that power influenced both LBJ and RFK negatively -- especially with respect to their treatment of each other. During the 1960 presidential campaign and then during the JFK administration, Robert Kennedy's innate dislike and scorn of LBJ was put into practice by his uniquely powerful position within JFK's cabinet. Clearly, RFK held the upper hand from 1960 through 1963, and he used his influence to shut LBJ out of important meetings and events and to make sure that LBJ's role was little more than that of "water boy." LBJ, for his part, fumed at the repeated slights from RFK during JFK's tenure, and -- as Shesol well demonstrates -- allowed the hurt and resentment that had built up during those three years to play much too large a role in his decision-making calculus during his own administration. If anything, LBJ's well-documented personal insecurities (which may have reached the level of clinical paranoia by the time he left the presidency) and mastery of the political game made his ostracism of "all things RFK" even more effective than RFK himself had ever been able to manage.
What all this means is that the personal animosity that these two important men felt toward one another was best effected by each during his own time of greatest power and influence. As a result, the talents and resources that each of these two great public servants had available to contribute were underutilized (at best) or squandered (at worst) at a time when the country desperately needed both men to help see it through some of its most difficult times. To the largest extent, Shesol does not ascribe greater fault or worse judgment to either man, and indeed he cannot, as each took advantage of his own personal power to minimize the influence of the other. That is the sad theme underlying Shesol's important and fascinating book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 29, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Recent months have seen the publication of a spate of books regarding presidential politics in the turbulent decade that was the 1960s. Taking Charge, The Kennedy Tapes, Shadow Play, LBJ's War, Kennedy and Nixon, The Walls of Jericho, The Living and the Dead, Guns and Butter, Dereliction of Duty, The Other Missiles of October---all these books offered some insight into the thoughts, beliefs, actions and geopolitical decisions of the men (and they were all men) who ran our country during that difficult and often painful period. Many of them are well-researched, some are well-written, a few have become best-sellers, but all of them are missing a vital piece of the puzzle, a flaw which leaves each of them, for all af their research and erudition, strangely unsatisfying and incomplete. This magnificent new book supplies that vital missing piece and, in doing so, paradoxically renders each of the others both more valuable and at the same time obsolete.
Shesol's thesis, which he amply substantiates with tapes, documents and personal interviews, is that the feud between RFK and LBJ was pivotal not only in the later stages in their respective political careers, but also in a wide range of policy decisions taken by Johnson, as President, and Kennedy, as Attorney General and then as Senator from New York. He enlivens his book with commentary and anecdote from a variety of important figures of the time, inclding Arthur Schlesinger, who is also quoted approvingly on the dust jacket. This is both an important piece of historical research and a thoroghly enjoyable read.
This delightfully written, important, book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the Vietnam War, the Johnson Presidency, the catastrophic results of the Great Society which we are still living with today, or, indeed, the 1960s in general. It should certainly be read in preference to any of the other books mentioned above.
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