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An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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As we approach the golden anniversary of this landmark equal-rights and public-accommodations bill, veteran journalist Purdum painstakingly details how its passage came about. In short, not easily. Contributing editor of Vanity Fair and former White House correspondent for the New York Times, Purdum is well qualified to retell this epic from a fresh angle. The book is less for the specialist than for an audience that may be stimulated by anniversary-related publicity (or by recent congressional gridlock) to learn more. The Kennedy brothers’ initial resistance to aggressive civil rights legislation may surprise some readers. Lyndon Johnson’s immediate commitment to the cause, after assuming the presidency following JFK’s assassination, shouldn’t—others have established this convincingly. The diligent efforts of Senators Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey are recalled, but Purdum also emphasizes the crucial role played by Congressman William McCulloch (Republican). It is instructive to read about the hard work, passion, intense political negotiation, and collegial respect that went into the enactment of this historic legislation 50 years ago. --Mark Levine
“[A] first-rate narrative … adding useful detail to previous accounts … Authoritative.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Today's reader will be startled, if not astonished, by how the bill made its way through Congress.” ―The Washington Post
“Purdum's version of this story is excellent…. An astute, well-paced, and highly readable play-by-play of the bill's journey to become a law.” ―The Atlantic
“A lively, informative account of the story behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964…. Purdum conveys a palpable sense of excitement akin to that created by Steven Spielberg in his recent film ‘Lincoln' in describing how the bill's backers finally broke the longest filibuster in Senate history.” ―The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“[A] well-crafted narrative … The author's assessment of the two presidents [JFK and LBJ] is insightful and nuanced.” ―The Miami Herald
“When we think back on the Civil Rights Act we naturally think of the role played by big figures who are familiar to us--such as Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Martin Luther King. But one of the great virtues of An Idea Whose Time Has Come is the way it brings some lesser-known people to the fore.” ―Vanity Fair
“An amazingly important book.” ―Rev. Al Sharpton, Morning Joe
“[A] valuable new book.” ―E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post
“A fascinating, blow by blow account.” ―All Things Considered, NPR
“The book reminds the nation that even the best-intentioned leaders remain flawed, because they are still human.” ―U.S. News & World Report
“[A] wonderful new history of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.” ―John Dickerson, CBSNews.com
“[A] great book … recounting the twists and turns that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act…. Todd Purdum's An Idea Whose Time Has Come … [reads] today like breakneck drama … [and describes] in detail a time when the rules of the political road included bipartisanship, clever backroom dealing, and at the end of the day, moral suasion.” ―Gwen Ifill, Gwen's Take, PBS.org
“[A] marvelous book.” ―The Diane Rehm Show, NPR
“One of the books of the year.” ―Mike Allen's Playbook, Politico
“Purdum, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, skillfully recalls these men and their roles through the three sections of his history, which trace the bill through the administration to the House and finally the Senate.” ―The Boston Globe
“Purdum's book [is] more necessary now than ever…. Purdum's book is especially good at recounting how the struggle in the streets …galvanized politicians to push the bill past its last hurdles…. Purdum's focus on each hard-won step in Congress keeps the story real and true, making the book an excellent resource on the legislation that, as the author says, ‘created the modern world.'” ―Washingtonian
“Todd S. Purdum's brisk … chronicle of [the Civil Rights Act of 1964's] turbulent birth offers a salutary reminder that historic legislation is not easily achieved…As Purdum's book vividly demonstrates, politics is a tricky, unpredictable, and occasionally dirty business.” ―The Daily Beast
“[Purdum] skillfully retraces the act through a legislative minefield…. Purdum composes portraits of civil rights icons including Martin Luther King Jr….but his most important contribution is reintroducing readers to largely forgotten heroes…. Readers who enjoy modern American historical narratives will be gripped by this title that is an excellent companion to Gary May's Bending Toward Justice.” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“A riveting account of the hard-fought passage of 'the most important laws of the twentieth century.'...Insightful and wholly mindful of the calculations that JFK and LBJ made at every step...A must-read.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An Idea Whose Time Has Come is brilliantly rendered and emotionally powerful – a riveting account of one of the most dramatic and significant moments in American history. The story Todd Purdum tells is absolutely mesmerizing.” ―Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Todd Purdum's history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a masterful reconstruction of a seminal American event. He brilliantly captures the actors and drama that made this transformation in the country's social relations a reality. Everyone interested in contemporary America will want to read this book.” ―Robert Dallek
“Todd Purdum brings alive Congress's great historic achievement: the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The heroes are J.F.K. and L.B.J., but also those Midwest Republicans who stayed true to Lincoln. Those are the quietly eloquent stories here, the profiles in decency and guts, where members of Congress honored values greater than current popularity. An Idea Whose Time Has Come shows once again that the real action in American politics takes place in the back room – and in that quieter place: the beating hearts of the decent and courageous.” ―Chris Matthews
“In Todd Purdum's gripping account of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we can see, from nearly every angle, how the federal government began making good on the ‘promissory note' of equal rights that Dr. King had invoked at the March on Washington. Purdum provides both an invaluable education in the political process and a keen understanding of how personalities (the famous and the unsung) and the best of both parties overcame every roadblock to ‘make real the promises of democracy,' as Dr. King had challenged.” ―Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“The story behind the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is one that all Americans should know. An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum's insightful and elegantly written narrative, brings this history to life with deft portraits of the people who made the law and those who fought against it. It is a must read for all who are interested in the transformative power of the law and government to make positive changes in the lives of citizens.” ―Annette Gordon-Reed
“Todd Purdum's remarkable An Idea Whose Time Has Come brings back to life the historic fight waged on behalf of civil rights by JFK and LBJ. Purdum is a superb writer, never dull, and his grasp of the Sixties milieu is foolproof. This is a marvelous and much needed book of lasting importance.” ―Douglas Brinkley
“Todd Purdum's fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the birth of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a timely and hopeful reminder that sometimes the good guys do win, even in Washington.” ―Jeffrey Toobin
“As we approach the golden anniversary of this landmark equal-rights and public-accommodations bill, veteran journalist Purdum painstakingly details how its passage came about. In short, not easily.... It is instructive to read about the hard work, passion, intense political negotiation, and collegial respect that went into the enactment of this historic legislation 50 years ago.” ―Booklist
“Purdum's keen eye for the wide cast of Capitol Hill characters keeps the story lively.” ―Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
Reps. William Moore McCulloch and Charles Halleck were heroes in the House. The GOP House leader and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee put the Kennedy and later Johnson White House on notice they didn't want to bother with pushing a bill through the House if it's only going to be watered down in the Senate, as occurred with Eisenhower's civil rights push--only to see then-Senate Majority Leader LBJ water it down to get past a southern filibuster. As noted, the House bill was watered down--but by Dirksen not by southerners. It was still a strong law, unlike the 1957 bill.
With no end in sight for partisan polarization in Washington, this book is a worthy read to learn about putting country first.
Reading like an extended episode of <i>West Wing,</i> the book follows the tortuous route through which a bill must go: procedures that must be adhered to, hurdles to overcome, as well as the stalling techniques practiced by those opposed to its passage. Frankly, while reading the book, I wondered if John Kennedy would have had the political chops to get the Bill passed. Kennedy’s early death rendered the responsibility of this important legislation to Lyndon Johnson who (for all his faults) knew the ways, byways, snares and shortcuts of both the House and Senate. LBJ knew how, when and who to push, plead, threaten and woo. And, oh, the characters whom he had to deal with in this drama! The cast is rich from Hubert Humphrey (the Happy Warrior of Minnesota, who, after strenuously arguing in the Senate, would complement his opponent and share a drink) to Howard Smith (the gentlemanly, but stern, segregationist from Virginia) to John Lindsay (a liberal Republican -- which sounds like an oxymoron today) among many others. But my favorite character was Everett Dirksen from Illinois, he of the tousled white hair and deep silken voice (he even had a best-selling album of patriotic poems). Dirksen’s Senate office was fully stocked; it was called the Twilight Bar and had a wall clock which always displayed that it was 5:00 p.m. However, in that office many deals were struck insuring there was a higher percentage of Republicans supporting the Civil Rights Act than Democrats. (What would we give for such a Republican today!)
Some critics found the book bogged down by the minutiae of individual characters, but I enjoyed those details and thought they added a lot of color. I also felt that the author surrounded the <i>in-house</i> political battle with contemporary events and commentary that added perspective to how the country as a whole experienced this landmark legislation. A great read which documents the events leading up to the law’s signing that happened exactly fifty years ago this June.
To their surprise and perhaps their astonishment President Johnson was able to push through a strong civil rights bill that he knew would
cost the democratic party the allegiance of the south. Most touching in this story is the social backwardness and race-mongering hate of
the southern leaders of the legislature. Only a man who truly knew how to use the levers of power in Washington could have elbowed the
civil rights bill through the legislative contrivances that the southern legislators had erected against the bills. One comes away with new
respect for Lyndon Johnson as the president who knew no match in his ability to foster the civil rights that we live under today.