Drawing upon original sources that include hundreds of taped interviews, Robert Dallek chronicles the colorful and complex life of Lyndon Johnson, ending with the presidential election of 1960. Heavily emphasizing the family background and Texas origins, the biography illuminates both Johnson’s actions and his motives.
Aspirations to leadership came naturally to Johnson, since his family had counted prominent Texans and Southerners among its members. Before encountering severe financial reverses, his father, Sam Ealy Johnson, had been a respected member of the state legislature. The elder Johnson’s experience illustrated the need for success as well as leadership.
An indifferent student in public school and lackadaisical in youth, Johnson transformed himself into a dynamo of energy after he entered college. He turned most of his energies to campus politics, and succeeded against unfavorable odds. A workaholic who set a torrid pace, he understood that he could often win through sheer effort, organization, and determination.
After his appointment in 1931 as secretary to Congressman Richard Kleberg, he gained exposure to national politics and an understanding of the workings of institutions. Elected to Congress in his own right in 1937, he became an ardent New Dealer and supporter of the Roosevelt administration. Dallek develops the important thesis that, throughout his career, Johnson sought to bring the South into the economic mainstream of the nation. He believed that this end was attainable only through federal intervention into the economy with programs like those of the New Deal. Despite compromises, concessions, and delays evident in Johnson’s political career during and after World War II, Dallek believes that he never abandoned his original New Deal outlook.
A further valuable feature of Dallek’s narrative is his detailed account of Texas democratic politics during the Johnson era. In the atmosphere of the conservative-liberal split among Texas Democrats that began in 1940, irregularities were the rule and not the exception. In his account of Johnson’s senatorial campaigns of 1941 and 1948, Dallek evinces a thorough understanding of Johnson and his times.
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic. CCLXVIII, September, 1991, p. 114.
Chicago Tribune. August 18, 1991, XIV, p. 1.
The Christian Science Monitor. August 30, 1991, p. 12.
Houston Post. August 18, 1991, p. C8.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 11, 1991, p. 2.
National Review. XLIII, September 23, 1991, p. 45.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, July 21, 1991, p. 1.
Newsweek. CXVIII, July 22, 1991, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, June 14, 1991, p. 49.
Time. CXXXVIII, July 29, 1991, p. 6.
The Washington Post Book World. XXI, July 21, 1991, p. 1.