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LBJ: Architect of American Ambition Hardcover – 18 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (18 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684834588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684834580
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 17 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,249,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Lyndon Baines Johnson was a complex man who helped shape extraordinary times...Woods has created a full and well-balanced biography of an icon that manages to feel fresh...The LBJ of this book has more light than darkness--a contrary but deeply compassionate individual who was often two steps ahead of everyone else in the room, and who was undone by the times in which he lived. -- Carol Iaciofano Boston Globe 20060816 Randall Woods has produced a magnificent portrait of Johnson that, while candid in showing the president's flaws, is [also] sympathetic. -- Cary Clack Cleveland Plain Dealer 20060917 In little more than five years, Lyndon Baines Johnson probably did more to reform and repair American society than anyone else in history. Yet, instead of being memorialized as a hero, LBJ is more often remembered as a slimy manipulator whose good intentions were sunk in the quagmire of a needless war. But as LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, an outstanding new biography by Randall B. Woods, reminds us, the career and legacy of this extraordinarily complex Texan can hardly be summarized in a sentence...LBJ leaves us with a fuller picture of this 'accidental president' and a greater appreciation of him as a noble failure or--perhaps more accurately--a great man with some king-size flaws. -- Randy Dotinga Christian Science Monitor 20060801 In his masterful new biography, Randall B. Woods convincingly makes the case for Johnson's greatness--as the last American president whose leadership achieved truly revolutionary breakthroughs in progressive domestic legislation, bringing changes that have improved the lives of most Americans. In this compelling, massive narrative, Woods portrays Johnson fairly and fully in all his complexity, with adequate attention to flaws in his character and his tragic miscalculations in Vietnam...In illuminating detail, Woods describes the enormous political skills with which Johnson, in quiet partnership with civil rights leaders, persuaded Congress to secure the basic freedoms of African Americans. Woods reminds us that dozens of government benefits and protections that Americans take for granted today were won in the 1960s principally because of LBJ's vision, legislative mastery and determination...Woods follows in the footsteps of LBJ's most reliable earlier biographers--Ronnie Dugger, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Dallek--but makes his own unique contribution to the Johnson literature with a fresh, probing interpretation of the influences and ideals that shaped Johnson and his presidency...The book's strengths include a balanced narrative, graceful prose and Woods's nuanced understanding of Southern politics and culture. -- Nick Kotz Washington Post Book World 20060917 In writing LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, Woods has produced an excellent biography that fully deserves a place alongside the best of the Johnson studies yet to appear. He is more sympathetic and nuanced than Caro, more fluid and (despite the significant length of his book) more concise than Dallek--and equally scrupulous in his use of archives and existing scholarship. Even readers familiar with the many other fine books on Johnson will learn a great deal from Woods. Unlike all but a few Johnson biographers, Woods is himself a Southerner, and has a particularly good understanding of the nexus of race, class, family and religion that shaped Johnson's life...Among Woods's many achievements in this fine biography is to allow us to see not only the enormous, tragic flaws in this extraordinary man, but also the greatness. -- Alan Brinkley New York Times Book Review 20060820 we need another biography of Lyndon B. Johnson? The answer is that Johnson was so complex that every new biographer willing to do the tough spadework of original research discovers fresh layers of Johnsonian reality to explain, new psychological and political corridors to explore. Such is the case with this excellent new work by University of Arkansas historian Woods. Woods finds Johnson's key motivation to be largely altruistic, emerging from righteous outrage over the poverty and racism he'd witnessed while growing up in Texas. Woods serves up a Johnson who is less cynical, less self-serving and more heroic and tragic than the man portrayed elsewhere. Woods's Johnson is a man who saw his greatest personal ambitions realized with the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and the Great Society programs. Not inappropriately, Woods concludes his eloquent and riveting account by quoting Ralph Ellison, who noted that Johnson, spurned at the end of his life by both liberals and conservatives, would 'have to settle for being recognized as the greatest American President for the poor and for the Negroes, but that, as I see it, is a very great honor indeed.' Publishers Weekly (starred review) 20060529 Wood's single volume evenhandedly condenses the complexities and controversies associated with the thirty-sixth president of the U.S...Raised in the populist tradition, LBJ cut his political teeth as an all-out New Dealer. But he shrewdly knew that the ambitions he harbored for himself and American society would never be realized without placating conservatives of various kinds--economic, segregationist, or anticommunist. In this fact of Johnson's political life, which induced some to perceive him as a malodorous wheeler-dealer, Woods detects a remarkable consistency, an inwardly liberal LBJ whose outwardly moderate politics were an expression of his mastery of political calculus...Thorough, astute, and readable. -- Gilbert Taylor Booklist 20060801 This is an absorbing portrait of a man who was as stand-and-deliver as his plain-speaking persona suggested but also a highly complex, driven individual who not only sought power but sought to do something with it. -- Steven Carroll The Age 20080223 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Randall B. Woods is John A. Cooper Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By MarkK TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 7 Oct. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Few American presidents generate as much debate today as Lyndon Baines Johnson. From relatively humble roots in Texas, he rose to the pinnacle of power in American politics. Brash and domineering to the point of obnoxiousness, he turned the position of Senate majority leader into the key office in that body through a mastery of wheeling and dealing that served him well as president and ensured the passage of a vast range of legislation that transformed the nation. Yet all of this is weighed against the controversial involvement in the Vietnam War, a topic that still triggers fervent discussion.

All of these elements are present in Randall Woods's new biography of LBJ. He chronicles Johnson's life from his Hill Country roots to his last ailment-plagued years on his iconic ranch. He begins with Johnson's parents, Sam Early and Rebekah Baines, both of whom played a critical role in shaping young Lyndon as he inherited his father's politics and his mother's idealism. From his early years, Woods goes on to chart Lyndon's rise in American politics, from his emergence as an ardent New Dealer in the 1930s through his famously narrow victory in the 1948 Democratic Senate primary to his role as Senate majority leader in the 1950s. Throughout it all he details Johnson's relationships with other political "fathers", most notably Sam Rayburn and Richard Russell - men from whom Johnson learned about the workings of Congress and who he courted and cultivated for their enormously influential support.

As impressive as Johnson's achievements were, however, he would be satisfied with nothing less than the highest office in the land.
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I live in America for about 6 months each year, and (despite the Vietnam War), I've always found LBJ an appealing president, because of his work on Civil Rights and the Great Society.

This book, at almost 900 pages, is probably as detailed a one book examination of LBJs life as we're likely to get. Of those pages, about 50% of the book focuses on the Vice-Presidency and Presidency, 30% on his work as a Congressman, Senator and Government Representative, and about 20% focuses on his early life.

To be honest, I found the book somewhat depressing. It describes a man, who because of his poor upbringing and origins (in the American South), couldn't be the man he probably wanted to be (and stay elected).

I also found the book surprising. I was born only a little before Johnson died, but always imagined him as decisive, because he seemed so effective in the Senate. It seems, from reading this book however, that you'll be presented with a guy who feels he's lacking in something, especially when compared to the JFK brigade in the White House.

In short, I think most people will get something new out of the book. I enjoyed reading it, and not just because I have a soft sport for Texas, and the area Johnson grew up in.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
LBJ- Architect of American Ambition by Randall B. Woods is a very good book about the influential and controversial thirty-sixth President of the United States. The book is well-written and fast-paced with a lot of detail and paints a vivid picture of an ambitious, brilliant and ultimately very powerful politician, but also shows a throughly unlikeable individual. The book however, does marginally suffer from the author occassionally jumping back and forwards chronologically which does at times become a little confusing. Nevertheless, it is a well-written, informative and increadibly interesting biography.
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By Hollie Robson on 18 Jun. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very good in depth biography, historically unbiased (something you don't find in other biographys about JFK for example) be warned it is absolutley massive, about 900 pages with small type and a big book itself. Also be warned! The book says Hitler died on 7th April- wronnngg, that puts it down a whole star for me as i dont see how a history professor can get Hitler of all peoples death wrong.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Giant book for a Giant of a Man 13 Mar. 2007
By J.G. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Informative and absorbing, "LBJ: Architect of American Ambition" is certainly one of the best bios I've read in a while. Woods' narration, though somewhat uneven at times, never loses focus on the long reach of Johnson's ambition, which is apparent from his boyhood to the halls of Congress, and throughout his controversial presidency. Not content with only explaining his forceful and often manipulative methods, Woods allows the reader to dive into LBJ's mind to explore the (largely) altruistic motivations behind his eccentric, almost schizophrenic behaviors.

Heralding over an era that he envisioned as a continuation of FDR's New Deal, LBJ's dreams came crashing under the events of the tumultuous 60s; that of Vietnam and urban riots. To paraphrase a comment once made by the father of a friend of mine, no political figure fit the mold of a Shakespearean Tragedy as LBJ did.

While I agree that the editing was most certainly shoddy and that Woods' standing as a historian gives him little room to allow such careless mistakes, I must respectfully contend that the book should not suffer anything more than a 2-star deduction as other reviewers have done. Save for situations in which an author is purposefully misleading or misconstruing the facts to push foward an agenda, such errors seem more benign in nature, and as such, context should be the focus. Should I use this book as a source for a future paper and/or project, I'll be sure to take note to double-check for accuracy; but as a more casual reader looking for a book to bring this character to life, I found that Woods' overall style accomplished that objective.

This book tells his story in a way that is sympathetic to his cause, but unflinching in revealing Johnson's flaws in more ways than one. With such a larger-than-life character as its subject, I can only hope a revised edition is not too far ahead in the future.
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Well written but an amazing number or factual errors 25 Sept. 2006
By William H. Korman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let me say that this book is well written and never dull. It is also a fairly objective view of LBJ, very welcome after Caro's multi-volumes of character assassination. The frustrating part of the book, however, is a barrage of incorrect facts, leading to the question of whether anyone actually edited this book. Lister Hill is repeatedly identified as a senator form Florida (he represented Alabama), Huey Long is described, in a very famous episode, as helping Hattie Carraway get elected to the Governorship of Arkansas (she was running for and was elected to the Senate) and Douglas MacArthur is described as a "young brigadier general" at the time he routed the "bonus" army from Washington. He was actually the 52 year old chief of staff of the U.S. Army at this time, holding four star rank.
51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Sound Premise, Lousy Editing 2 Dec. 2006
By M. Parsons - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As one who believes Lyndon Baines Johnson was an effective, significant president. I looked forward to reading this book. Many of the books that have been written about President Johnson tend to focus on his shortcomings. I believe that while Vietnam is the "elephant in the room" that will forever be a part of his legacy (in a negative sense), it is important to remember that Johnson was a remarkable political leader. He led the United States Senate like no one did before him or anyone has since. Robert Caro's Master of the Senate covers Johnson's 12 years in the Senate and ranks along T. Harry Williams Huey Long as one of the finest books ever written about modern American politics. As president, Johnson provided the leadership that resulted in Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, federal funding of education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Randall Woods provides a sympathetic and highly readable biography of LBJ. However, his work is marred by a litany of sloppy factual errors that are to say the least, distracting. Early on, Woods refers to Jackie Kennedy's green blood stained dress. The dress was pink. He refers to Alabama Senator John Stennis. John Stennis represented Mississippi. Woods states that Frank Lausche reprented Indiana in the United States Senate. Lausche represented Ohio. The book locates the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy at the Embassy Hotel. In reality, the assassination took place at the Ambassador Hotel. Albert Jenner is listed as being a senator from Indiana, when in fact, the senator in question was named William. It is not uncommon to find one or two errors in a book from time to time. However...there were so many in LBJ:Architect of American Ambition, one has to seriously question whether or not this book was edited or proofread by anyone. So, while I would give the book a B+ for content and overall understanding and interpretation of the subject, the editing is among the worst I have ever seen in a political biography.
135 of 157 people found the following review helpful
Don't mess with Texas 31 Aug. 2006
By Calochortus - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author has unearthed a large amount of information, as you would expect from a professional historian and academic. And he wishes to share a lot of it with the reader. His style is flat, clear and in the tradition of some of the better Wikipedia entries. If you are fond of reading histories by David McCullough, think of this as the anti-McCullough. Long paragraphs full of detailed information, and a very long book. Minimal amount of interpretation, synthesis and story-telling. Tough-sledding if, like me, you had the impression from Caro's books that LBJ was an unsavory man whose lack of courage and honor kept him from ending the war when he knew he should. There is a tidal wave of information here, data overload. Not sure what the point is, though. A more thoughtful, interpretative, argumentative approach would have been far better. Do we really need to know everything he did on so many days?
50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Too Many Errors to be Worthwhile 31 Oct. 2006
By Don A. Mele - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a strange book that includes a lot that is new and makes for compelling reading. But it is an unreliable book and for that reason cannot be recommended. It is replete with errors. I want to mention a few because I believe they are both symptomatic and sufficiently important to undermine the value of the book. For example, when discussing President Kennedy's assassination on page 3, Woods describes Mrs. Kennedy's "green suit still splattered with her husband's blood," while on page 418 he describes "her pink suit splattered with her husband's brains..." Trivial? Unnecessarily tasteless, certainly, but more than a trivial mistake. Surely even Woods has seen what is probably the most viewed amateur movie film in color. In another example, Woods puts Hitler's death at April 7, 1945 "with the Red Army advancing on the outskirts of Berlin." Before Roosevelt's death? This isn't just a matter of memorizing dates. Sequence is essential to historical understanding. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, after Roosevelt's death, and with the Red army within meters of the bunker, not in the suburbs. Again, not a trivial mistake. There are more. On one page he informs us that John Stennis was the Senator from Mississippi and on another page from Alabama. How can anybody with a memory of the civil rights movement possibly forget the Senator from Mississippi? The errors extend to style, as well. Evidently pleased with himself, Woods describes DeGaulle over and over again as "le grande Charles," turning the French President into a grammatical hermaphrodite. Well, you get the point. There is more needed here than good editing. The book reads as if it was researched by uncommunicating groups of graduate students with too little knowledge of facts, stuck together by an inattentive author who has an insufficient sense of his period so necessary for context and understanding, and reviewed by an over-hasty editor who can't remember on page 4 what he read on page 3. For these reasons, this book is unreliable as history and one has to wonder what its value is. Perhaps just an entertaining read.
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