LBJ in the Presidency
By Mark K. Updegrove
Crown Publishing Group (NY), Hardcover, 9780307887719, 384pp.
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
List Price: $27.00*
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Nearly fifty years after being sworn in as president of the United States in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Baines Johnson remains a largely misunderstood figure. His force of personality, mastery of power and the political process, and boundless appetite for social reform made him one of the towering figures of his time. But he was one of the most protean and paradoxical of presidents as well. Because of his flawed nature and inherent contradictions, some claimed there were as many LBJs as there were people who knew him.
Intent on fulfilling the promise of America, Johnson launched a revolution in civil rights, federal aid to education, and health care for the elderly and indigent, and expanded immigration and environmental protection. A flurry of landmark laws—he would sign an unparalleled 207 during his five years in office, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Head Start, and Medicare—are testaments to the triumph of his will. His War on Poverty alone brought the U.S. poverty rate down from 20 percent to 12 percent, the biggest one-time drop in American history. As president, he was known for getting things done.
At the same time, Johnson’s presidency—and the fulfillment of its own promise—was blighted by his escalation of an ill-fated war in Vietnam that tore at the fabric of America and saw the loss of 36,000 U.S. troops by the end of his term.
Presidential historian Mark K. Updegrove offers an intimate portrait of the endlessly fascinating LBJ, his extraordinarily eventful presidency, and the turbulent times in which he served. We see Johnson in his many guises and dimensions: the virtuoso deal-maker using every inch of his six-foot-three-inch frame to intimidate his subjects, the relentless reformer willing to lose southern Democrats from his party for a generation in his pursuit of civil rights for all Americans, and the embattled commander in chief agonizing over the fate of his “boys” in Vietnam—including his two sons-in-law—yet steadfast in his determination to thwart Communist aggression through war, or an honorable peace.
Through original interviews and personal accounts from White House aides and Cabinet members, political allies and foes, and friends and family—from Robert McNamara to Barry Goldwater, Lady Bird Johnson to Jacqueline Kennedy—as well as through Johnson’s own candid reflections and historic White House telephone conversations, Indomitable Will reveals LBJ as never before. “ For it is through firsthand narrative more than anything,” writes Updegrove, “that Lyndon Johnson—who teemed with vitality in his sixty-four years and remains enigmatic nearly four decades after his passing—comes to life.”
“A readable, endlessly interesting look at the LBJ years.” —Kirkus
“Updegrove’s valiant and interesting effort to reappraise the man and his presidency is both valuable and necessary.” —Booklist
“ Lyndon Johnson was so big a figure that no one canvas can adequately capture him. Yet Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Johnson Library and Museum, does remarkably well with one crisp phrase: ‘Flawed, yes, and not always good, but great.’ This is serious work, with a serious second look at . . . the flawed conventional wisdom about Johnson.” —Boston Globe
"Indomitable Will is an instant classic...Mark Updegrove's scholarly mastery of oral histories, original source documents, and presidential writings, combined with a flair for exquisite story telling make for a fascinating, can't-put-down, lust-for-more read." —New York Journal of Books
“This book throbs with voices from an era that proved to be a hinge of American history. Their recollections become a chorus of insight into Lyndon B. Johnson, the colossus of his time, whose personality, politics, and policies are getting a much deserved second look. No one should be more eager to hear these voices than Barack Obama, whose path to the White House was cleared by LBJ’s indomitable will.” —Bill Moyers
“I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Lyndon Johnson and his presidency. It is an entertaining as well as an enlightening book.” —President Jimmy Carter
“Lyndon Johnson is the most underappreciated president of the twentieth century. The tragedy of Vietnam has long overshadowed his accomplishments in domestic affairs, especially on the subject of civil rights, where his positive influence was second only to Lincoln’s. Mark Updegrove’s innovative examination of Johnson’s presidency marks an important step in setting the record straight.” —H.W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Traitor to His Class and The First American
“In history there’s no substitute for being there—unless it’s hearing the candid insights, revelations, and occasional belly laugh from those who were. Thanks to Mark Updegrove and his battery of historical eyewitnesses, presented here, as LBJ himself would attest, “with the bark off,” we don’t simply relive the past . . . we experience one of America’s most colorful, polarizing, galvanizing, and, yes, entertaining public lives from the inside out. Whatever you think of Lyndon Johnson, you’ll never see him in quite the same light after plunging into this compulsively readable group portrait.” —Richard Norton Smith, George Mason University, and author of Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation
“Seeing is believing and Mark Updegrove’s book gives the reader an intimate and gripping view of Lyndon Johnson in the president’s own words and the words of those who saw this unbelievable American original, Machiavellian and magnificent, wrestling opponents in the Congress and the nation to the mat as he passed civil-rights, anti-poverty, consumer, health, education, environmental, arts, and humanities legislation that has changed our nation to this day.” —Joseph A. Califano Jr., Lyndon Johnson’s chief domestic policy aide and secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Carter administration
“Mark Updegrove’s Indomitable Will superbly captures the always interesting Lyndon Johnson. Relying partly on Johnson’s voice, but mainly on the impressions and recollections of the many people who helped shape or observed his administration, the book re creates the great triumphs and frustrations of his presidency. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the sixties as a prelude to our times.” —Robert Dallek, author of Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961–1973 and An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963