In the opening pages of Flawed Giant, readers meet a downtrodden politician whose greatest ambition--the presidency--is tantalizingly close but seemingly out of reach. JFK's elder by almost 20 years, Johnson was a reluctant and unenthusiastic vice president. When he finally realized the office, his satisfaction there was marred by his difficulty in reconciling his deeply held beliefs and political expediency. In this sequel to the critically acclaimed Lone Star Rising, biographer Robert Dallek concentrates on Johnson's White House years. In addition to expertly covering the major events of Johnson's presidency, Dallek probes lower-profile episodes that help expose Johnson's character. His agonizing search for a vice president in 1964 is one such example--in order to salve his ego, Johnson was adamant that he should win reelection without a Kennedy on the ticket and resisted both the Democratic party and Robert Kennedy right up until the convention.
Dallek is skilled at laying bare the man's complicated and even contradictory nature. At diplomacy, Johnson often seemed like a loud, brash American, yet successful trips to Southeast Asia and Africa as vice president prove his occasional adroitness in this area. One of Johnson's Achilles' heels, it seems, was paranoia; a firm believer in the fact that knowledge is power, Johnson rarely communicated his true intentions or feelings, even to his closest confidants or cabinet members, until the last. And he secretly tape-recorded thousands of conversations with people at all levels of government. Dallek avers that Johnson's impenetrability is the reason why much of his action on Vietnam defies explanation. And the dark cloud of the war now largely obfuscates Johnson's impressive congressional record. Careful to neither vilify nor deify his subject, Dallek devotes large sections of the book to both Vietnam and Johnson's major accomplishments in the area of reform and funding for programs such as civil rights, Medicare, clean air and water, the NEA, public broadcasting, and food stamps.
This engrossing biography is peppered throughout with snippets of its subject's trademark: colorfully idiomatic speech that brings him vibrantly to life. Based upon exclusive interviews with Lady Bird Johnson and Bill Moyers, as well as recently released papers and transcripts, Dallek's biography is a major contribution to the collective understanding of this man whose passions had a major impact on American society.
Lone Star Rising, the first volume in Robert Dallek's biography of LBJ, was hailed as "a triumphant portrait of Lyndon Johnson as rich and oversized and complex as the nation that shaped him." Now, in the final volume, Dallek takes us through Johnson's tumultuous years in the White House, his unprecedented accomplishments there, and the tragic war that would be his downfall.
In these pages Johnson emerges as a character of almost Shakespearean dimensions, a man riddled with contradictions, a man of towering intensity and anguished insecurity, of grandiose ambition and grave self-doubt, a man who was brilliant, crude, intimidating, compassionate, overbearing, driven: "A tornado in pants." Drawing on hundreds of newly released tapes and extensive interviews with those closest to LBJ--including fresh insights from Ladybird and his press secretary Bill Moyers--Dallek takes us behind the scenes to give us a portrait of Johnson that is at once even-handed and completely engrossing. We see Johnson as the visionary leader who worked his will on Congress like no president before or since, enacting a range of crucial legislation, from Medicare, environmental protection, and the establishment of the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities to the most significant advances in civil rights for black Americans ever achieved. And we see for the first time the depth of Johnson's private anguish as he became increasingly ensnared in Vietnam, a war he did not want to expand and which destroyed his hopes for The Great Society and a second term.
Exhaustively researched and gracefully written, Flawed Giant reveals both the greatness and the tangled complexities of one of the most extravagant characters ever to step onto the presidential stage.
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