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Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a…

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President

by Betty Boyd Caroli

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Despite its title, this book is more a biography of First Lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson than even a study of her marriage with President Lyndon Baines Johnson. She comes off looking far better than he does. Not the typical woman, wife and mother of that era (1930s through 1960s), Lady Bird was the perfect political spouse and a successful businesswoman in her own right. I enjoyed learning more about her in Lady Bird and Lyndon, far more than I expected.

The print version (as viewed in excerpts on Amazon) has extensive end notes. Author Betty Boyd Caroli used a number of primary sources in this work, including Lady Bird's White House diary (both the published version and the original stored at the LBJ Library), as well as other source material stored at the presidential library, including recordings and transcripts of meetings and conversations, home movies made by Lady Bird, and the couple's 1934 courtship letters.

Amanda Carlin was a good reader, using Southern accents when quoting Lady Bird or Lyndon, which helped to distinguish that what they were saying was within quotation marks. However, she mispronounced Pedernales and Llano. Ideally a top-notch narrator would research correct regional pronunciations of place names, and if not, the audiobook editors should have done it. Fortunately these words were only used three to four times in the book, otherwise the mispronunciations would have driven me crazy.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This electronic audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.] ( )
  riofriotex | Apr 20, 2018 |
Betty Boyd Caroli
Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President
Simon & Schuster
Ebook, 978-1-4391-9124-8 (also available in hardcover and as an audio book), 480 pgs., $14.99
October 27, 2015

Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor and Lyndon Baines Johnson met in the Texas Railroad Commission Office in September of 1934. He proposed the next day and they eloped two months later. Lady Bird, the independent, determined, business-minded offspring of a jaw-droppingly dysfunctional marriage, needed a vehicle, as a woman in Texas during the Great Depression, to “let her deploy her ambition” and decided Lyndon was that man.

In Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President, Betty Boyd Caroli makes a convincing case that Lady Bird was certainly not the timid wallflower as she is so often portrayed in biographies of President Lyndon Johnson, but rather a “girl [who] gradually became a figure of steel cloaked in velvet,” who transformed herself into the “model political wife” and an example for future first ladies.

In simple prose, and with access to private letters, “most of them not available to researchers until Valentine’s Day in 2013 and not used by a Johnson biographer until now,” Caroli creates an informal, sometimes gossipy tone, with a pop psychology bent. Caroli’s thesis is that Lyndon could not have been as successful as he was without Lady Bird (“fixer, enabler, smoother-of-feelings”) and that those letters prove her case, revealing “the implicit deal the pair struck with each other: that Lyndon would fulfill her ambition of being matched with a man as charismatic and as comfortable with power as her father while taking her away from him, and that Bird would provide Lyndon with a ferocious devotion equal to his mother’s and the emotional ballast he needed to achieve his ambition.”

While Lady Bird and Lyndon is the story of a marriage, not of individuals, it is evident that Caroli admires Lady Bird and the book concentrates on her. Caroli explains away Lady Bird’s shortcomings but spares Lyndon nothing in detailing manic-depressive behavior, paranoia, verbal abuse (“the treatment”) of everyone in his orbit, including his wife, and his seemingly countless affairs. While important to a marriage biography, the regular reports, not to mention an entire chapter, on Lyndon the “sexual conquistador” are repetitive enough to be tiresome.

Lady Bird and Lyndon is full of fascinating details about the behind-the-scenes functioning of a partnership that affected the lives of many millions of people. I have a much fuller picture of the actual person of Lady Bird. In the end, though, this book tells the story of a pathological relationship that, nevertheless and no matter the personal costs to the individuals and the collateral damage inflicted, appears to have attained its public goals. Is that success?

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life. ( )
  TexasBookLover | Dec 27, 2015 |
Lady Bird and Lyndon is an impressive history. It demonstrates clearly that Lady Bird was Lyndon's anchor and without her he couldn't function. It was startling to learn that he was a serious manic depressive who would take to the bed in the White House for days with the blankets covered up to his head. He was that depressed. And to think that it was he running the country and managing the war in Viet Nam is frightening. He was a beneficiary of her wealth and her great concern for him though he was most abusive of her. She would look the other way and say "well that's Lyndon". She didn't want a second term in the White House but wanted to go home to their ranch in Texas and enjoy life. She strongly influenced him not to run again. By that time he was so unpopular that he didn't want the embarrassment of not being nominated again. The writing in the book is superb. I recommend it unqualifiedly. Enjoy. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Nov 23, 2015 |
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"Marriage is the most underreported story in political life and yet is often the key to its success. This is the idea driving a revealing new portrait of Lady Bird as the essential strategist, fundraiser, barnstormer, peacemaker, and ballast for Lyndon...[A] biography of a political partnership that helps explain how the wildly talented but deeply flawed Lyndon Baines Johnson ended up making history..."--P. [2] of jacket.… (more)

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