- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream Paperback – 1 Jul 1991
|New from||Used from|
Audio Download, Unabridged
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"The most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read . . . No other President has had a biographer who had such access to his private thoughts." --The New York Times
"Magnificent, brilliant, illuminating . . . A profound analysis of both the private and the public man." --Miami Herald
"Kearns has made Lyndon Johnson so whole, so understandable that the impact of the book is difficult to describe. It might have been called 'The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, ' for he comes to seem nothing so much as a figure out of Greek tragedy." --Houston Chronicle
"Johnson's every word and deed is measured in an attempt to understand one of the most powerful yet tragic of American Presidents." --Chicago Tribune
"A fine and shrewd book . . . Extraordinary . . . Poignant . . . The best [biography of LBJ] we have to date." --Boston Globe
"An extraordinary portrait of a generous, devious, complex, and profoundly manipulative man . . . [Kearns Goodwin] became the custodian not only of LBJ's political lore but of his memories, hopes, and nightmares . . . We have it all laid out for us in this wrenchingly intimate analysis of a man who virtues, like his faults, were on a giant scale." --Cosmopolitan
"Absorbing and sympathetic, warts and all." --The Washington Post
"A grand and fascinating portrait of a most complicated, haunted, and here appealing man." --The Village Voice
"Vivid . . . No other book is likely to offer a sharper, more intimate portrait of Lyndon Johnson in his full psychic undress." --Newsweek
"Powerful, first-rate, gratifying . . . [The author] has proven herself worthy of Lyndon Johnson's trust; for by sharing his fears and dreams with us, she has helped us to understand no just one man, but an era, and ultimately ourselves." --Newsday
Explores the thirty-sixth President's background, his personal outlook and behavior, his political career, and the political system that fostered his rise.See all Product description
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Showing 1-7 of 12 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Kearns Goodwin was clearly fascinated by Johnson, his overbearing personality and his almost childlike need for constant company and approbation, and the picture she draws is affectionate, if critical when her unheroic hero fails to live up to the liberal model she wishes him to have followed. But Johnson, however well she defends him as the tragic victim of circumstance and his own flawed nature, was not a liberal idealist. He was a deal maker, a backroom operator, and a man driven by overwhelming ambition, who aspired to an office the very political skills he possessed made him unsuited to hold, and so, in the sense of the author's tragi-heroic drama, a man doomed to fail. Yet, Johnson's failure was not inevitable because of his nature, but rather due to his double failure as president: his failure to understand how America was changing in the nineteen sixties; and his failure in Vietnam.
Johnson, when he justified his actions in idealistic terms, was both a product of the New Deal, and a politician determined to complete, and also, in his view, exceed what Roosevelt had begun. But while he understood to do this he needed to exercise executive power, the talents he had shown in Congress were those of the negotiator and the legislator, and trusting in his own abilities, he believed these would allow him to achieve his ends. Yet, while these skills were pertinent in the congressional battles for the Civil Rights Act and for legislating the Great Society, they were of limited use in managing the administrative implementation of these, and were disastrous when it came to Vietnam: wars are not won by negotiations but by the exertion of the force appropriate to achieve a defined victory - negotiation is what comes after victory - or defeat.
Vietnam was not Johnson's war by inception, for it was the product of US policy in South East Asia since 1954, bequeathed to him by John F. Kennedy, but it became his war once he decided to pursue a policy of limited escalation after the Tonkin Gulf incident, and it was this piecemeal escalation that sucked America into a decade long quagmire, scarred a generation, tore a fissure through US society, and led to abject military, although not necessarily political, defeat. Vietnam was a war that the US may have needed to fight in view of the complex geopolitical situation of the early 1960s, but Johnson was not the man to fight it. Whether Kennedy would have been any more successful is moot, but there is little doubt that he would have fought the war in a different way.
Johnson's ☡cautious, secretive approach to government, his excessive trust in a small group of advisors who were reliant upon him for their authority, and his inability to coordinate military force with diplomatic pressure in a meaningful way, all led to eventual defeat, and in Kearns Goodwin's reading these are the product of the president's flawed character. For the LBJ she depicts was not a bullying warmonger, but a man wracked by doubt, struggling with an office that for all he craved it was beyond his capacity, and a compromised idealist who dreamed of a better world, a world made better by the great Lyndon Johnson to suit his own dated and simplistic vision. However, whatever the value of his American Dream, Johnson lacked the means to achieve it. In both the Great Society and Vietnam, Johnson knew what he wanted as an end, but, and to a far greater extent in the latter than in the moderately successful former, he lacked the executive ability to get there. The true tragedy for Kearns Goodwin is that Johnson's disastrous failure of means in Vietnam was to inadvertently lead to the failure of ends in the Great Society. In 1968, because of Johnson's military failures, the man of peace was not Johnson himself, or Hubert Humphrey, his chosen successor, but in the opinion of a plurality of voters, Richard Nixon, and with Nixon came not only withdrawal from Vietnam but also a retreat from the vision of the Great Society.
Kearns Goodwin's epilogue presages her later more distinguished work as a presidential historian, but it reads rather as a thin add on, not the true exploration of presidential power and it's exercise that she would now be capable of writing. However, it does attempt to put to bed the canard of the imperial presidency with powers too great to be invested in one man, by showing that in the end the nature and efficacy of each presidency depends upon the character and experiences of each man in the Oval Office, while the duties, responsibilities and powers of the president are both explicit in the Constitution and inherent in the office as it has developed with America's expansion into a superpower. From a British perspective, it might appear that it is the very revolutionary and idealistic, rather than evolutionary and empirical, nature of the US Constitution, with its strictures as to the separation of powers, that made possible the failures of leadership that led to Vietnam by vesting too much authority, moral as well as executive, in a single person over the conduct of foreign policy and the use of force, although this opinion would be heresy to an American reader.
So, what to make of the LBJ Kearns Goodwin reveals? The most salient point is that Johnson had trouble telling the truth, and that he was prone to telling different things to different people at different times to obtain his ends. While this made him an effective Senate Majority Leader, when he tried to use similar political wiles regarding public opinion and Vietnam it made him appear dishonest, which is not surprising because when it came to Vietnam he was dishonest. Johnson never leveled with the American public about the true costs and the real nature of the war, and he did his best to keep their representatives from exercising proper scrutiny of his actions: it is revealing how this most powerful of former senators tried to exclude the Congress from proper oversight of Vietnam. The result was that many Americans never understood what the purpose of the war was, and how, even if the president knew, it would be won, because as a backroom operator throughout his political life, Johnson could not and would not trust them - like too many who enter politics, he could weigh the votes but not see the voters. That many felt they had been left in the dark about the reality in Vietnam was not a sin of omission but one of deliberate intention.
Johnson was not, despite his hopes, one of the better presidents, and Vietnam probably places him towards the bottom of any listing of greatness, but he did have some successes as both legislator and president. However, despite his physical size, Johnson comes across in this book as too small a person in a moral sense to occupy the presidency, and there is a childishness about his private behaviour that seems out of kilter with the demands of the office. Also Johnson, like Nixon later, was overshadowed and overawed by his perception of the legacy of Kennedy (along with the liberal mythology that developed with it), although Kennedy was only an average president in terms of accomplishments - crisis management notwithstanding - but he seems in retrospect to be more suited by character to exercise the presidency than his two immediate successors. Simply, the Lyndon Baines Johnson, as Kearns Goodwin's slightly superficial memoir reveals, lacked the character and the skills to be president, and that is why he failed, to America's continuing cost.
It was during the years as a Senator that Johnson's skills as a wily politician really came to the fore, as he accumulated significant power through manipulation, wheeling and dealing. After suddenly becoming President following the assassination of Kennedy, these same gifts initially served Johnson well, leading to his landslide victory in the presidential election of 1964. Goodwin demonstrates that unfortunately, in the longer run, Johnson's style of operating was entirely unsuitable to the presidential role.
The main reason I didn't allocate 5 stars to this biography is because I would have liked much more detail about the day-to-day relationship Johnson had with the senior members of his administration. I would have preferred to have more colour added to the decision-making process at the White House and a little less to the author's interpretation of Johnson's dreams. However, overall I think this is a really good account of a really good president.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?