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Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by…
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Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976)

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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An exhaustive review of Lyndon Johnson. More than that it was a text on political science with examples from the 1930's and emphasis to about 1970. Doris Kearns Goodwin is very intelligent, very informed and has studied a great deal in great detail. The book is a masterful example of history and the study of government being melded to explain and to teach. I would recommend anyone considering public service to read this book, especially the writer's note at the end. It was first written in 1976 but I wonder if anyone could convince current leaders to read it? They should. The concepts covered are astonishingly relevant to today's politics.

The author/scholar does not shade the facts or insights about the man. It was a very thorough academic exercise which LBJ probably would have criticized as overly intellectual. I was quite young during the events recorded in the book and am grateful for such an insightful and balanced bit of history. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
Summary: A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews.

This month, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, will hit the bookstores. The book explores lessons learned from her biographies of four presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. The book that began her study of presidential leadership was her biography of Lyndon Johnson, first published in 1976. In a Goodreads interview about her new book, she describes how her personal encounter with Lyndon Johnson led to her career as a writer and historian:

"I became a historian first, and then a writer. In graduate school, I was working on my thesis on Supreme Court history when I was selected to join the White House Fellows, one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. At the White House celebration of the newly chosen Fellows, President Johnson asked me to dance—not that peculiar, as there were only a few women in the program. He told me he wanted me to be assigned directly to him, but it was not to be that simple.

For like many young people, I had been active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and had co-authored an article that called for the removal of LBJ, published in the New Republic several days after the White House dance. Despite this, LBJ said: “Bring her down here for a year, and if I can’t win her over, no one can.” I worked with LBJ in the White House and later assisted him in the writing of his memoirs. I will forever be grateful to him because there’s no question that my experience working for him shaped my desire to become a presidential historian."

That experience of working personally for and with Johnson, both in the White House, and later, on his ranch, gave her unique access into Johnson's self-conception of his life, his House and Senate experience, and his exercise of presidential leadership. Goodwin renders a story of a young man torn between the high hopes and expectations of his mother, and the much easier and more personable style of his father. He hated formal speaking but was the consummate student of people who knew how to make deals and get things done. From his cultivation of a relationship with a university president, a congressional aide who rapidly makes others beholden followers, several terms in the House, a failed, and then successful Senate bid and his rapid rise to Senate Majority Leader, we see someone who studied those around him, learned how to accrue power to himself by bestowing benefits to his followers, receiving their support, if not love, in return.

Presidential ambitions required a different set of skills that Kennedy had and Johnson lacked. Failing his bid in 1960 for the presidency, he accepts the role of Vice President, thinking he could use the methods that worked so well throughout his life, only to find, as have so many, that the office of Vice President has great status, and no power, or potential for such, unless the President dies. Thrust into the presidency by Kennedy's death, he uses his Senate leader skills to continue and realize Kennedy's vision, articulated by Johnson as the Great Society. In his first year, and the year after his landslide election, he enacts landmark Civil Rights legislation (as a President from the South) and social legislation including Medicare. Foreign affairs, never a strong suit, struck in the form of Vietnam, a war he could neither win nor walk away from. Goodwin explores why and describes his efforts to sustain his social programs while escalating the war, and the disastrous consequences to his social agenda, and to the economy until the epiphany of the Tet offensive and the McCarthy and Kennedy candidacies made it plain that he could not win in 1968.

Goodwin spent extensive time with Johnson in his last years, and narrates his inability to write his memoirs, his conversations about his presidency, and Vietnam, and his deep frustration from trying to bestow so much of benefit on the country, only to be reviled by the demonstrators and so many others (Goodwin among them). A combination of meticulous research and up close and personal contact helps us understand the tremendous force of personality that made Johnson great, and the flaws that cast a shadow on what, otherwise, might have been a great presidency. I tend to approach psychological portraits with some skepticism, but her accounts of Johnson in his own words, his actions and her rendering of his character has an internal consistency that offers deep insight into a man for whom I had little respect growing up. Now I find myself longing for the political mastery and vision he exhibited at his best leading the enactment of the Civil Rights legislation which was perhaps his proudest legacy.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has gone on to give us memorable portraits of Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and even the Brooklyn Dodgers of her youth. This was her debut effort and reveals the promise of all that would come from her pen over the last forty years. Perhaps the publication of Leadership in Turbulent Times might encourage some to go back and read the work that led to her distinguished career as a presidential scholar. ( )
  BobonBooks | Sep 5, 2018 |
Wow, what a difference from Profile of Power by Richard Reeves, which detailed the Kennedy Presidency almost day-by-day, event-by-event. Doris Kearns Goodwin might have mentioned the Tet Offensive and the 1967 Moratorium once…in passing…maybe. I read in constant fear of slipping over the edge into Freudian psychobabble about LBJ’s mommy issues (Fear of heights? Fear of falling? Fear of Freud?) My biggest takeaway was that while Johnson might well have been the perfect man for Senate Majority Leader, he ultimately proved the Peter Principle, rising to his level of incompetence upon his ascension to the Oval Office. ( )
  mtbass | Dec 30, 2016 |
Didn't finish. ( )
  txorig | Jul 6, 2016 |
This book covers LBJ, from his birth in a small Texas town, rise through the Senate, becoming President and eventual retreat from public life during Vietnam. The author explorers Johnson's early relationships, paticularly with his parents and beloved grandfather and how these people shaped the driven man that he became. At his best as a behind the scene's mover in the Senate, driven by his childhood teachings to use aquired power for the benefit of others and the spiral of events that led him to disaster in Vietnam. Johnson is not the hero or the villian of the piece. A complex man, trying to do good during the most trying of times, Lyndon was haunted by his decisions and undone by a war he felt he could not avoid and a population that he thought he served faithfully, only to be scorned by them. ( )
1 vote queencersei | Dec 27, 2011 |
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my mother and father
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Richard and Bert Neustadt
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It is more than eighteen years since Lyndon Johnson died, and yet my last conversation with him, two days before his fatal heart attack, turns in my mind as if that formidable, frustrating, fascinating character were still alive. (Foreword)
On the north bank of the Pedernales River in Stonewall, Blanco County, Texas, a mile of dirt road connects the ranch house where Lyndon Johnson died to the small farmhouse in which he was born.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312060270, Paperback)

Doris Kearns Goodwin's classic life of Lyndon Johnson, who presided over the Great Society, the Vietnam War, and other defining moments the tumultuous 1960s, is a monument in political biography. From the moment the author, then a young woman from Harvard, first encountered President Johnson at a White House dance in the spring of 1967, she became fascinated by the man--his character, his enormous energy and drive, and his manner of wielding these gifts in an endless pursuit of power. As a member of his White House staff, she soon became his personal confidante, and in the years before his death he revealed himself to her as he did to no other.

Widely praised and enormously popular, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is a work of biography like few others. With uncanny insight and a richly engrossing style, the author renders LBJ in all his vibrant, conflicted humanity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:00 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Takes us through the vast landscape of Johnson's political and personal life: from his childhood, dominated by an indulgent mother and a hell-raising politico father, through his early political victories and the ideals that inspired them; from the Washington system that trained him, through his election as Vice President and the transitional year, 1964, when JFK's assassination brought him to the highest office in the land; from the remarkable talents that brought him triumph, to the inner demons that tormented him and the flaws that engendered his ultimate tragedy.… (more)

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