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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly the best of the recent JFK/LBJ/RFK/White House books
Recent months have seen the publication of a spate of books regarding presidential politics in the turbulent decade that was the 1960s. Taking Charge, The Kennedy Tapes, Shadow Play, LBJ's War, Kennedy and Nixon, The Walls of Jericho, The Living and the Dead, Guns and Butter, Dereliction of Duty, The Other Missiles of October---all these books offered some insight...
Published on 29 Oct 1997

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful, well researched account.
Mutual Contempt is a thoughtful, well researched account of this tumultuous relationship and of this tumultuous time. A slight bias toward LBJ detracts only slightly from the history it retells. (I am astounded by an earlier reviewer's conclusion that the opposite slant is the case.) Mr. Shesol is to be commended for his ability to move the story along. Too often...
Published on 25 Jan 1999


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not definitive, 8 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade (Paperback)
Given the recent market for books about LBJ, the consistent market for Kennedy books, and the play the LBJ-RFK relationship gets in almost every book about either man (and about JFK), it's surpising that no one has tackled this subject in a book before.
But, as good as this book is, one has to wonder if it's really worth the 500+ pages Shesol devotes to it. (Chris Matthews covered the just as interesting JFK-Nixon relationship in his much shorter, more piquant book "Kennedy & Nixon.) Shesol goes to some length to justify this book's subtitle -- "the feud that defined a decade" -- but doesn't really succeed. Say what you will about either LBJ or RFK, but both were far too canny politically to let their personalities completely overpower the events of the 1960s.
This book is comprehensively researched, sensitive, clear-headed, and impressive...just as you would expect from an academic history paper, which is what the genesis of this book was. But for all that, this book lacks the narrative force, drive, and passion that, say, Robert Caro is likely to bring to this topic when he covers it in his comprehensive, controversial series of "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" books--which are recommended to readers who like this story.
Especially early in this book, Shesol goes off on tangents (for example, on William Manchester & Jackie Kennedy) which might impress a history professor but aren't really necessary in this depth in this type of book.
Readers interested in RFK in particular should check out a very underrated RFK book by Jules Whitcover called "85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy."
Readers can argue forever who, in the end, Shesol likes better. My vote says RFK, but that's far from certain, and it really doesn't matter anyway. Enjoy this book for what it is - a good, somewhat dry, tackling of a subject that is both more simple and more complex than Shesol says.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly the best of the recent JFK/LBJ/RFK/White House books, 29 Oct 1997
By A Customer
Recent months have seen the publication of a spate of books regarding presidential politics in the turbulent decade that was the 1960s. Taking Charge, The Kennedy Tapes, Shadow Play, LBJ's War, Kennedy and Nixon, The Walls of Jericho, The Living and the Dead, Guns and Butter, Dereliction of Duty, The Other Missiles of October---all these books offered some insight into the thoughts, beliefs, actions and geopolitical decisions of the men (and they were all men) who ran our country during that difficult and often painful period. Many of them are well-researched, some are well-written, a few have become best-sellers, but all of them are missing a vital piece of the puzzle, a flaw which leaves each of them, for all af their research and erudition, strangely unsatisfying and incomplete. This magnificent new book supplies that vital missing piece and, in doing so, paradoxically renders each of the others both more valuable and at the same time obsolete.
Shesol's thesis, which he amply substantiates with tapes, documents and personal interviews, is that the feud between RFK and LBJ was pivotal not only in the later stages in their respective political careers, but also in a wide range of policy decisions taken by Johnson, as President, and Kennedy, as Attorney General and then as Senator from New York. He enlivens his book with commentary and anecdote from a variety of important figures of the time, inclding Arthur Schlesinger, who is also quoted approvingly on the dust jacket. This is both an important piece of historical research and a thoroghly enjoyable read.
This delightfully written, important, book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the Vietnam War, the Johnson Presidency, the catastrophic results of the Great Society which we are still living with today, or, indeed, the 1960s in general. It should certainly be read in preference to any of the other books mentioned above.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vulgar, but irresistible, 15 Oct 1997
By A Customer
We were assigned this rather repellent book for an advanced graduate seminar on the role of the presidency in post-war US history. Our professor raved about it (probably because the author quotes him approvingly on several occasions), saying that it would "force a radical reappraisal of the Johnson presidency". Both he and Shesol (the author) somewhat overstate the case-- I find it hard to believe that a US President, even one as monstruously egotistical as Johnson, could really subordinate policy decisions to personal vendettas to the extent claimed--but Shesol certainly builds a strong argument from presidential documents and personal interviews. Whether or not his case is as solid as he would like to think, Shesol certainly entertains mightily while making it. The book is a rollicking good read, full of hillarious anecdotes, mainly (though not entirely) at Johnson's expense. My favourite was about an Oval Office tape, now in the Johnson library, which, in an earlier era, had been transcribed as the President finishing a telephone call with the words "I have to go now: I have to meet the f--king b---ard". A Johnson biographer had interpreted this as a reference to Bobby Kennedy, but Shesol, with a keen ear and Johnson's appointment list for the day in hand, realised that what the President actually said was "I have to go now: I have to meet the Pakistani Ambassador" !!!!!! Another fine tale bites the dust.... But not to worry, for there are plenty more in this irresistably vulgar, but simultaneously thought-provokingly erudite, book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful, well researched account., 25 Jan 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade (Paperback)
Mutual Contempt is a thoughtful, well researched account of this tumultuous relationship and of this tumultuous time. A slight bias toward LBJ detracts only slightly from the history it retells. (I am astounded by an earlier reviewer's conclusion that the opposite slant is the case.) Mr. Shesol is to be commended for his ability to move the story along. Too often writers of histories on narrower topics tend to dwell where they ought not. One exchange which might surprise today's non-historians: RKF admonished the Johnson administration for not spending enough federal money on welfare, anti-poverty programs and food stamps. Query what either man would have thought of President Clinton's statement that the era of big government is over.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a readable, authoritative assessment of a fascinating feud, 15 Aug 1997
By A Customer
I received a pre-publication review copy of this book and was just bowled over. I had little idea of the central role that RFK/LBJs mutual animosity played in many of the most important events of the 1960s, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and the aftermath of JFK's assassination. Shesol has unearthed a mountain of new information and moulded it into a coherent, convincing and gripping whole. He writes beautifully (unsurprising for a Rhodes Scholar, more so when you discover that he is also a nationally syndicated cartoonist!!), and teases out the complexities of 60s Washington in a remarkably appealing way. Anyone with the slightest interest in US politics, the 1960s, the Kennedys, the Vietnam War, or simply a fascinating, yet previously untold, story, should set aside a weekend to spend with Mr Shesol's tome.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting argument taken a touch too far, 18 Aug 1999
By A Customer
After reading this book, one can hardly contest the author's assertion that Johnson and RFK disliked, feared and resented each other even more than is the case in most political relationships. That no doubt arose largely because of the exceptional circumstances created by JFK's assassination. But did their feud really "define a decade"? No, because the political and social canvas on which their rivalry was played out was far greater than the author allows. That said, the book is extremely well researched, and the wealth of primary sources that are used enables the reader to reach his own conclusions. My main complaint is that the author seems unduly influenced by the views of some of the young "radical" advisors who surrounded RFK. The book also seems to tilt in a slightly bitter manner against Johnson toward the end. Was Johnson really that bad? Looking at what came after him, one is permitted to think not.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read Book, 22 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade (Paperback)
I have recently finished reading this book and think that it is amongst the best I have read about 20th Century US Politics, rating it just slightly below David Halberstams 'The Best and the Brightest'. The book is well written, well researched and easy to read, keeping your interest at all times. It is both incisive and flows along with plenty of tale telling and gossip. I can just see Johnson making policy decisions to slight, wrong foot or contradict RFK and I found the whole story believable and thrilling to read. This book is required reading for anybody interested in the Johnson Presidency and the decisions made that led and kept the US involved in the disastrous war in Vietnam.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study., 5 Sep 2011
By 
J. P. Ryder "J. P. Ryder" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade (Paperback)
Jeff Shesol's 1997 book is a fascinating study of two fascinating men.

Mutual Contempt is meticulously researched and written in a style that puts LBJ, RFK and their 'mutual contempt' under the microscope quite unlike any other book has done before or since.

The author identifies the genesis of the two men's feud as being LBJ's disparaging 1960 references to JFK's health problems as the two men vied for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
Thereafter, it was all downhill.

Shesol captures the true greatness of both of his subjects and, yet, at the same time, shows just how vitriolic and childish each could be when slighted.

As VP, Johnson was clearly unfulfilled and politically impotent whilst RFK enjoyed unprecedented access to the president.
After Dallas everything changed.

Had RFK and LBJ been able to harness their shared political ideals, plus their political skills and put aside their personal animus, recent American history might well have been very different.

This fine book takes the reader from 1960 through the following eight years until RFK's murder. Along the way the events of Cuba, Berlin, Dallas, Vietnam and much more besides provide the political landscape on which Johnson and Kennedy locked-horns.

Excellent reading!

Barry
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5.0 out of 5 stars A work that will stun, sadden and amuse - a tremendous study, 22 Aug 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade (Paperback)
This extraordinary work will ignite the reader's imagination, and he will never be able to think of Robert Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson the same again. The vague historical references to this feud can never fully express the emotion and passion that fueled it. Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were inextricably tied throughout the 1960's and, indeed, this book superbly records their eternal connection. Though the author is clearly Kennedy-partisan, the work is a fair study of both players. The reader will find himself on an emotional rollercoaster, filled with varying degrees of anger, shock and sympathy toward both men. This book chronicles beautifully a real life Shakespearian tragedy as it unfolds and progresses toward its all too sudden finale.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What if they had worked together?, 8 July 1998
By A Customer
A great, great book that covers an exciting as well as depressing period in US history. I can't help but wonder, though, what could have been if these two powerful men had worked together.
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