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Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195054651
ISBN-10: 0195054652
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the opening pages of Flawed Giant, readers meet a downtrodden politician whose greatest ambition--the presidency--is tantalizingly close but seemingly out of reach. JFK's elder by almost 20 years, Johnson was a reluctant and unenthusiastic vice president. When he finally realized the office, his satisfaction there was marred by his difficulty in reconciling his deeply held beliefs and political expediency. In this sequel to the critically acclaimed Lone Star Rising, biographer Robert Dallek concentrates on Johnson's White House years. In addition to expertly covering the major events of Johnson's presidency, Dallek probes lower-profile episodes that help expose Johnson's character. His agonizing search for a vice president in 1964 is one such example--in order to salve his ego, Johnson was adamant that he should win reelection without a Kennedy on the ticket and resisted both the Democratic party and Robert Kennedy right up until the convention.

Dallek is skilled at laying bare the man's complicated and even contradictory nature. At diplomacy, Johnson often seemed like a loud, brash American, yet successful trips to Southeast Asia and Africa as vice president prove his occasional adroitness in this area. One of Johnson's Achilles' heels, it seems, was paranoia; a firm believer in the fact that knowledge is power, Johnson rarely communicated his true intentions or feelings, even to his closest confidants or cabinet members, until the last. And he secretly tape-recorded thousands of conversations with people at all levels of government. Dallek avers that Johnson's impenetrability is the reason why much of his action on Vietnam defies explanation. And the dark cloud of the war now largely obfuscates Johnson's impressive congressional record. Careful to neither vilify nor deify his subject, Dallek devotes large sections of the book to both Vietnam and Johnson's major accomplishments in the area of reform and funding for programs such as civil rights, Medicare, clean air and water, the NEA, public broadcasting, and food stamps.

This engrossing biography is peppered throughout with snippets of its subject's trademark: colorfully idiomatic speech that brings him vibrantly to life. Based upon exclusive interviews with Lady Bird Johnson and Bill Moyers, as well as recently released papers and transcripts, Dallek's biography is a major contribution to the collective understanding of this man whose passions had a major impact on American society.

From Publishers Weekly

In his sequel to Lone Star Rising, Lyndon Johnson & His Times, 1908-1960, Boston University historian Dallek draws from recently released presidential papers and transcripts, as well as interviews with Johnson proteges such as Bill Moyers, to vividly depict LBJ's tumultuous years as vice-president and president. If not as engaging or evocative as other biographers, Dallek is always objective, chasing the facts whether they lead to the detriment or to the advantage of his troubled protagonist. The book is particularly strong in juxtaposing the magisterial, single-handed architect of sweeping domestic reform in the Great Society with the public-school-educated, provincial legislator from the Texas hill country who felt inadequate when it came to matters of international relations. As Dallek shows, Johnson yielded too often (sometimes against his better instincts, almost always against his own best interests) to Ivy-educated advisers on such problems as Vietnam. Then we have Johnson's private war with Bobby Kennedy, of whom he said: "[Bobby] skipped the grades where you learn the rules of life. He never liked me, and that's nothing compared to what I think of him." All told, Flawed Giant provides a complex yet elegantly rendered portrait of Lyndon Johnson as vice-president, president and man. 32 halftones not seen by PW. $50,000 ad/promo; cover feature in Atlantic Monthly; History Book Club and BOMC alternates; 6-city author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195054652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195054651
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas A. Wheeler on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Over the last several years I've read more than 30 presidential biographies, usually letting Amazon reader's guide me to the best choice. While I would place Dallek's LBJ Volume 1 in the top five presidential biographies, Volume two is not quite in the same class. Dallek continues to write well, and I think he presents a complex man and a very difficult time in a balanced way. But over half of this biography details the morass of Viet Nam, and it is truly depressing to read as Johnson and his advisers relentlessly lead the country over the cliff.

During the first two years of LBJ's presidency he led the US Congress to pass some of the most significant legislation in our history - Medicare, greatly increased low income housing, legal aid, increased funding for education and student loans, the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th Century, and the Great Society legislation, a muddled effort to end poverty.

Then, slowly and inexorably LBJ took the US deeper and deeper into Viet Nam. Dallek argues that whatever other geo-political factors were involved, LBJ's drive to be a great president and his fear of failing made the Viet Nam catastrophe inevitable. Johnson simply could not admit to being the first president to lose a war, he couldn't cope with the reality of the corruption of Viet Nam's leadership, and he couldn't stand to be honest in telling the American people just how poorly the war was going. Dallek presents a president who was increasingly paranoid of a nonexistent communist menace influencing the anti-war movement and of Bobby Kennedy leading JFK's ghost to steal LBJ's legacy.

Today, there are numerous editorials comparing the war in Iraq to Vietnam (or denying any comparison).
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Format: Hardcover
I strongly preferred Dallek's first volume, Lone Star Rising, over the two Caro books that cover most of the same period, because Dallek presented a detailed and human portrait, while Caro seemed to have so completely turned against his subject he couldn't see anything good about him. So I looked forward to Dallek's treatment of his Vice Presidency and Presidency with as much anticipation as I can recall.
I was frankly disappointed in this volume. The entire Vice Presidency is handled in a single chapter and contains no insight greater than that LBJ was frustrated in the job, hardly a revelation. And the treatment of the Presidency, while providing a good general treatment, gives far less insight into his thinking and the way he made decisions, than the first volume. One can get far more insight from reading Michael Beschloss's edited transcripts in "Taking Charge".
One cogent example: in discussing the reaction to the 1967 Detroit riots, he quotes LBJ reacting to criticism by saying his statement was drafted by the best constitutional lawyer in the U.S. Yet one has to look at the footnotes to discover that this "lawyer" is Abe Fortas, who was then on the Supreme Court. That the president was consulting a justice about a domestic policy statement is an important issue, but one Dallek doesn't bother to tell us about. Yet it is that kind of insight that one looked forward to seeing in this volume. It's a shame it's not there.
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By JK on October 27, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unlike some other reviewers, I was not disappointed by this sequel to Lone Star Rising. LBJ was so complex, and so was his Presidency. I've read many books on him and often get the impression given by the parable of the elephant and the three blind men: each writer gives a part of the description of the 'elephant' that was Johnson, but no real complete picture. Mr. Dallek comes closer, in my opinion, to representing the complete picture of Johnson and his Presidency, than others. I've always viewed Johnson in the same mold as FDR, in terms of scope of personality and ability to place a personal stamp on his Presidency. Both mean had such great assets and achievements, and both had great shortcomings. The difference that comes to mind immediately is Johnson's lack of confidence in many judgments and life-long lack of self-confidence; this is well-illustrated in this book. Unlike Roosevelt, Johnson lacked the ability to disguise his motives and emotions in an ongoing manner.
Like other reviewers, I only wish there had been greater coverage of Johnson's Vice-Presidential years. I've never read any detailed history of this period in Johnson's life, other than the feuding with the Kennedy clan. There's probably a book here for someone willing to spend the time and effort.
Dallek's writing is much more balanced than the books by Caro, and I think history will prove them of greater value.
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Format: Paperback
This is the second volume of a two-volume biography; the first is "Lone Star Rising", which covers Johnson's life up until his run for the vice-presidency with JFK; this volume covers his years as vice president, president, and his short retirement.
Dallek does a very good job of showing both the positives and the negatives of a man who he demonstrates clearly deserves the title of the book. Johnson is unquestionably a giant of American history; his domestic accomplishments, most notably pushing the Civil Rights Act through congress (something that few other men could have accomplished in the same position, given that Johnson had more influence with southern politicians who were inclined to oppose the act than most liberal democrats at the time) are certainly undeniable. Yet his flaws were spectacular too, notably his handling of the Vietnam war; it isn't just that he escalated the war from a minor, we-had-a-few-advisors-over-there situation to a situation in which thousands of Americans were dying; it isn't just that he refused to pull out when it became apparent that we weren't going to win the war anytime soon, and that Americans by and large didn't support the cost in lives of staying the course. It's that he lied repeatedly about our prospects there in order to build support for something that he knew perfectly well people wouldn't support if they knew the truth, and that he became downright paranoid on the subject, considering anyone who disagreed with him on it to be a "commie dupe" and a "traitor". It's that he subtly undercut the presidential campaign of Hubert Humphrey, his own vice-president and the man most likely to continue his domestic policies, in favor of Richard Nixon, because Nixon's stance on Vietnam seemed more in keeping with his own.
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