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.
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