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Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965 [Paperback]

Michael R. Beschloss
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2002
Beschloss has transcribed and selected the most stunning moments from hundreds of hours of newly-released LBJ tapes to give us - with commentary and historical context - treasures of permanent interest to historians and readers. The book exposes the inner workings of LBJ's Presidency during its most critical stage, from the fall of 1964 through most of 1965. During these months, LBJ changed America in a way that affects all of our lives today. He took personal command of the revolution for civil rights, escalated the Vietnam War beyond the point of no return and, in the high summer solstice of the Great Society, passed more monumental laws than any President in history, starting with Medicare. The book provides story after story that shows us Lyndon Johnson unplugged. From beyond the scenes, he micromanages his Presidential campaign and defends himself against charges of scandal. On Election Night, he acts to ensure that Americans will not see his victory, the greatest in history, as merely a landslide against Barry Goldwater. His vendetta against the new Senator Robert Kennedy gathers steam.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (1 Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074322714X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743227148
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.1 x 22.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 492,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"A week from now, Johnson will begin his campaign for a full term as President against Barry Goldwater." Read the first page
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3.0 out of 5 stars Another print on demand 6 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great book about one of the 20th century's greatest arm squeezers and fixers. LBJ was one of the great Presidents and this gives a deep insight into his politics, personality and quite frankly twisted thinking. My only gripe is what you get is a 'print on demand' book, which smells bad and whose cover curls back like badly cooked bacon. This should have been stated in the Amazon description.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As GRIPPING as a movie...revealing LBJ's true SECRET 24 Nov 2001
By Joel L. Gandelman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is truly an astounding, superbly compiled, book. Now, years later, we finally know the truth: Lyndon B. Johnson was not merely a tragic president who stuck to his guns and fought a war he mistakenly believed he could win (with various political restrictions on the military).
He was, this book proves beyond a shadow of a doubt in its lively transcripts of his secretly taped phone conversations, a tragic president who stuck to his guns and fought a war he firmly believed would be LOST no matter WHAT.
He didn't want to lose, but he didn't want to be the one to pull out, so he got in deeper and deeper, losing sleep and agonizing all the way -- and the consequences to his administration and the country were catastrophic.
There are a slew of reasons why you should read (or gift) this amazing book.
The main one: true, it does give you perhaps more than you wanted to know about LBJ (but I don't care WHAT some reviewers have said: I LOVE the many sections where he is flirting with and flattering Jackie Kennedy!)...but if you read it you get a clear idea of how a president operated -- and many parts of this book are so dramatic and gripping, they read like a movie script. In fact, I can see the Oliver Stone movie now.....
Historian Michael Beschloss makes it seem easy when you read it, but transcribing and annotating (so you know through footnotes what LBJ is referring to when he talks and get some historical context..and know when LBJ is spinning) these conversations taped between 1964 and 1965 could not have been easy. Yet, he gives you the meat and you get to "know" how LBJ thinks and, politically, works.
It shows Johnson, warts and all, as a man who could have been one of the top presidents because of his skills, will and sincere desire to serve. But it also shows a highly conflicted, contradictory, at times paranoid and highly depressed man. On the night of his monster landslide 1964 election he is angry and "down," steaming over Bobby Kennedy's influence, lack of political deference and possible future machinations. As he presses and manipulates to get his Great Society legislation passed, he's secretly leaking negative info on election opponent Barry Goldwater, keeping the lid on information regarding his number one aide's role in a sex scandal. He talks of victory in Vietnam, but repeatedly tells politicos and his wife that there is absolutely no way the U.S. can ever win, and he is tormented by his terrible choice and unwanted role. He wants to help the poor and the blacks, but will talk a little more "southern" if he has to while talking to someone who doesn't quite agree with him to make them think he's on their wavelength.
The famous Gulf of Tonkin resolution? Even Johnson believed it may not have happened. But he took the resolution in Congress and ran with it -- using it to justify the war he knew he the U.S. could not win.
In Feb. 1965 he told a Senator "a man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere. But there ain't no daylight in Vietnam. Not a bit."
If you went back and contrasted his public pronouncements with what he was saying privately, it would be shocking: pep talks to the country (and troops) to the contrary, he never felt we could win. Meanwhile, he kissed J. Edgar Hoover's you-know-what to keep Hoover on his side (actually, they had been neighbors in Washington and Johnson had carefully wooed Hoover for years) in his battle against Goldwater, Kennedy and others.
Not all of the book is about the sad, deceitful slide into Vietnam. Many of the transcripts deal with his election campaign, domestic legislation etc....but by the end of this fast-moving volume Vietnam is devouring LBJ alive as it did the country -- and the innocence and joy of the early 1960s.
I read this book rather quickly. It was an INCREDIBLE experience. Read it and you'll be a very sad fly on the wall in the White House.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the first set! 18 Dec 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You don't have to be interested in American history to find this book fascinating. In fact, if you have an aversion to the study of anything of a historical nature, this book may just bring you over to our side.
There is no more colorful character in 20th century American political history than Lyndon Johnson. Michael Beschloss does a wonderful job of letting Lyndon tell his own story. His analysis and presentation of our 36th president is perhaps one of the most fair portrayals of a recent president that I have read. I suggest that you purchase both the book and the tapes--the written word and the spoken word can have drastically different interpretations.
In the first book, Johnson is presented as a paranoid, uncouth, unwilling country politician who has had the job of president thrust upon him. On more than one occasion he confides in his friends and family that he just isn't up to the job, and doesn't feel that anyone really wants him.
But by late 1964, when this book really begins, Johnson steps up to the plate and decides to do his best. The landslide election victory puts the wind back into his sails, and he is ready to take on the world--except Vietnam, which he says on numerous occasions is an unwinnable war.
He puts his best foot forward when he gives his speech to Congress requesting passage of the Civil Rights bill of 1965. This was perhaps his brightest moment as Chief Executive. You will also hear the President's candid remarks regarding Alabama Governor George Wallace, who double-crosses Johnson and pays for it, dearly.
Johnson also proves to be a visionary, predicting the rapid growth of metropolitan centers, as well as expressing his fear of the effect that high unemployment and lack of education would have on black men.
On the tapes, Judith Ivey presents a narration of Lady Bird's journal entries which give a helpful insight to the President's true states of mind. You begin to see this "larger than life" man from the inside and realize his frailties as well as his humanity.
I left the first book saying "wow! this guy was an animal!" I left this book with a much different impression of who Lyndon Johnson really was. A man overwhelmed. A man who truly wanted to be loved by people who were suspicious of him simply because of his accent. A man who didn't want any part of the war in Vietnam, but who wasn't strong enough to pull out because he feared giving the impression of weakness more than he feared losing the war.
I feel like I know him personally. You will, too.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Finally! the story is told! 8 Jun 2004
By Kelly L. Norman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I don't mean LBJ's real thoughts about the Vietnam war, although obviously that is a great revelation. I mean that I know why it took Michael Beschloss so long to finish this follow-up to "Taking Charge"....these tapes are tough to listen to. They are not the entertaining excerpts of the previous volume. The '64-'65 excerpts show more of LBJ's warts, and cover painful ground, primarily concerning the war in Vietnam. Also, there is so much material that, unlike with the first volume, I found myself getting bored at times. Surely Beschloss himself must have found putting this volume together more difficult.
Of course, the fact that negative and humdrum things characterized part of the Johnson's presidency during the two years covered was not Beschluss's fault. But I felt some material, most notably some of the well-wishing calls made by the President and Lady Bird to friends, could have been left out or shortened.
Speaking of Lady Bird, however, she becomes a larger and refreshing presence in these tapes. Johnson apparently looked to her as his best critic (in the best sense of the word); she is heard giving him feedback about many speeches. In an era where we tend to think of Hilary Clinton as the first "co-president", it is interesting to learn how much Johnson relied on his wife.
Although it might not be a CD set to take to the beach, I still recommend the audio version of this work (not the written version; Johnson's delivery is an indivisible component of his personality). These annotated tape excerpts are nothing less than a piece of history.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely riviting history 2 Feb 2002
By love to read - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this book in one weekend, completely unable to put it down. Of all the books recently published about former presidents, this is the best. Lyndon Johnson's unvarnished tapes coupled with Michael Beschloss's superb comentary give a direct window into one of America's most turbulent eras. Having lived as a young adult through the time covered in this book--1964-1965, I feel that I have lived it again--this time with more complete knowledge of what was really going on. The Lyndon Johnson that I met in this book is truly unforgetable. His angst over the war in Viet Nam takes on the patina of Greek tragedy, especially in his inability to do anything about what he knows is going to happen. I was so taken with this book that I ordered the previous volume 'Taking Charge', and can't wait for the third one to be published.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NEW APPRECIATION OF JOHNSON 11 July 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
In rating a book I feel I am usually rating the author as well. However, in books such as this that is based upon transcripts it is hard to truly rate the author. Mr. Beschloss' contribution was limited to doing research to explain the circumstances of the transcripts, choosing the transcripts to use, and the tedious task of transcribing. Original thought, though, is not part of the book. The actual content was provided by Lyndon Johnson and many of the major government movers and shakers of the mid-1960s.
I was a little disappointed and surprised at how "sanitized" the tapes were. I had always thought Johnson's vocabulary was one of the more profane and obscene of all presidents but in both this book and in "Taking Charge" you do not see much evidence of this.
As I read the transcripts I gained a new appreciation for the man. Although I inherited a dislike for the Kennedys and LBJ from my parents, I found myself impressed with many aspects of LBJ. Unlike many others then and now, he was not awed by the Kennedys -- he feared them but was not awed by them. I thought the transcripts of his conversations with Jackie Kennedy in the weeks after the assassination (left out of "Taking Charge" at the request of the Kennedy family) were interesting and even flirtatious as he tried to woo her and keep her friendly while Bobby was becoming less friendly.
I was impressed with the progression into that nightmare in southeast Asia as the President, his senior staff, and Congressional leaders all saw little good coming out of the Vietnam adventure, yet despite their misgivings could not avoid it. There were too many factors that made the decision to escalate that conflict the right choice in the mid-1960s although the risks were well known and the suspicions about the Joint Chiefs of Staff were apparent. Many are critical of President Johnson for publicly proclaiming the conflict as winnable while privately proclaiming the conflict as unwinnable -- yet sending many brave men there anyway. I still recall how the liberal news media proclaiming men such as Senators Church, McGovern, Fulbright, etc as being courageous for being critical of the administration's decision to escalate, but the decision to escalate was in itself was courageous. I also know that Bobby Kennedy was critical of LBJ and that many of President Kennedy's aides and supporters have proclaimed that if JFK had been allowed to serve two full terms we would have pulled out and avoided the problems that LBJ put us through. However, JFK was a politician too. JFK was going to delay any major withdrawals until after the 1964 elections so as to avoid the specter of losing Vietnam during an election campaign. After winning re-election, though, he may have felt compelled to maintain and escalate our involvement because the public was still supportive and to avoid the specter of losing Vietnam during the 1966 mid-term election campaign. After 1966 he may have felt compelled to maintain and escalate our involvement because the public was still supportive and to avoid the specter of losing Vietnam during the 1968 election campaign to choose his successor. And so it goes...
This book covers a short period of the Johnson years. It covers the 1964 campaign and election, the Walter Jenkins sex scandal of October 1964, the crisis in the Dominican Republic in spring 1965, the gradual escalation of forces in Vietnam, etc. I understand Mr. Beschloss is limiting this series to three books so the next book will have a lot to address including the 1966 mid-term elections, the continued escalation of Vietnam and increasing demonstrations against his policies there, race riots, the Pueblo incident, the TET offensive, his decision not to seek re-election, the campaign within the Democratic party to succeed him, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Chicago convention, the 1968 campaign, the transition to Richard Nixon, etc. Wow! That will be a lot to cover for one book!
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