Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency

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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...
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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.”
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, TX, presents a highly intimate portrait of our 36th President. Instead of a linear, chronological biography, Updegrove organizes the work around chapters on the famous Johnson treatment; the Kennedy assassination; Johnson's efforts to continue the Kennedy legacy; his rise to the presidency; Johnson's famous blunt, critical style; and his great tragedy, the Vietnam War. Similar in approach to Merle Miller's 1980 Lyndon: An Oral Biography, this book takes advantage of many newly released original speeches; newspaper accounts; secretly taped oval office meetings, conversations, and telephone calls; and interviews, as well as material from other histories and biographies. Interspersed throughout these remarks are numerous LBJ anecdotes, including some in his actual voice. Most of the interviews were conducted by others during Johnson's lifetime, and the comments of these selected key personalities who knew, lived with, or worked with Johnson are presented by different readers emulating the selected person's voice. VERDICT Unfortunately, the use of alternate voices miserably fails, while Johnson's own words from his speeches, meetings, and telephone conversations add sparkle. ["General readers wanting an introductory overview filled with anecdotes and reminiscences will like this, as may some scholars, but the latter will chiefly want Robert Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, covering LBJ from 1960 to 1964," read the review of the Crown hc, LJ 4/1/12.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
From the Publisher
“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

Library Journal
Few presidents, while in office, were both admired and loathed as much as Lyndon Johnson. Updegrove (director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, TX; Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who Took Office in Times of Crisis) brings together secondary sources, previously completed oral histories and interviews, and further interviews he conducted for this book to offer a mostly sympathetic portrayal of LBJ. While he focuses on Johnson's presidency, which soared with the passage of his Great Society legislation in 1964 and 1965 and fell in 1968 because of the Vietnam War and a country still torn apart by race, Updegrove also touches on Johnson's Texas childhood and his post-presidency, cut short by his death in 1973. Lively comments from the author's interviews of and correspondence with Johnson's daughters, close aides, and politicians, notably George McGovern and Walter Mondale, vividly recount Johnson's life and times. VERDICT Updegrove has not attempted a full-scale biography such as Robert Dallek's Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant or Robert Caro's unfinished multi-volume LBJ biography. General readers wanting an introductory overview filled with anecdotes and reminiscences will like this, as may some scholars, but the latter will chiefly want Robert Caro's next volume: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (May), covering LBJ from 1960 to 1964.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Hey, hey, LBJ: The former president, not much talked about these days, comes in for assessment by political colleagues and journalists of the day. Celebrated playwright Clare Boothe Luce once remarked that all presidents are known by a single sentence: Thus, Lincoln freed the slaves; Washington was the father of his country; Clinton--well, you get the idea. For Lyndon Johnson, as LBJ Presidential Library Museum director Updegrove (Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who Took Office in Times of Crisis, 2009, etc.) writes, the sentence would necessarily involve Vietnam, an assessment that is not strictly fair, since Johnson inherited the war. However, as he put it, "I knew from the start that if I left the woman I love--the Great Society--in order to fight that bitch of a war, then I would lose everything." So he did, and in doing so he effectively repudiated his own record by not running for reelection in 1968. One bit of news in this newsworthy book is that Johnson plainly believed that he would have defeated Richard Nixon had he stood for office: "I believe I would have been nominated by that convention," he said near the end of his life, "and that I would have won over Nixon by a substantial margin." Instead, as Updegrove notes, the Democrats chose the bland Hubert Humphrey, who must have seemed a walk in the park after years of the mercurial Johnson, who was a blusterer and bully. However, notes staffer Myer Feldman, "I think Lyndon Johnson had great virtues and great vices, [and] depending on whether that particular day he was emphasizing the vices or the virtues, you liked or disliked him." Other news: Johnson didn't read books; by Dean Rusk's account, Johnson was closely involved in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis, though Bobby Kennedy later froze him out of the historical record; and Barry Goldwater missed an opportunity by pretending the civil-rights movement didn't exist in the 1964 campaign. A readable, endlessly interesting look at the LBJ years.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307970008
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2012
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

MARK K. UPDEGROVE is the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, and the author of Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who took Office in Times of Crisis and Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House. A sought-after com­mentator on matters relating to politics and the pres­idency, he has appeared on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NPR, NBC News, and PBS. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Evelyn, and their children, Charlie and Tallie.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Index of Voices xi

Introduction 1

1 "A Man Who Remains a Mystery" 9

2 Looking at the Living, Wishing for the Dead 15

3 "Let us Continue" 25

"He Knew Instinctively What to Do"

Big as Texas

Seeking the Ultimate to Do the Possible

"An American Bill"

The Kennedys

4 The Johnson Treatment 71


"The Summertime of Our Lives"

Finishing Franklin Roosevelt's Revolution

No Men with Umbrellas

The Public Man

5 "All the Way With LBJ" 117


"In Your Heart You Know He Might"

The Loophole

6 Power and Glory 133

"We Shall Overcome"

A War for the Poor

"All the Education They Can Take"

Making Harry Truman's Dream Come True

Nature Was My Companion

"What Can You Do for Our Country?"

"The Fabulous Eighty-ninth Congress"

"Nearly Every Person in the World is Good"

7 Commander in Chief 185

"What the Hell is Vietnam Worth to Me?"

"Another Cuba"?

Lyndon Johnson's War

8 Hawks and Doves 209


Guns and Butter

A Question of Credibility

9 Under Fire 225

"We're Burning Up!"

"The Hot Line is Up"

Justice and Lawlessness

"Hey, Hey, LBJ ..."

"Eyes Only-For the President"

Around the World in Four and a Half Days

10 "The Nightmare Year" 253

"One War at a Time"

No Light, Longer Tunnel

The Decision

March 31

End of a Dream

"What Is Happening to Us?"




"Nixon's the One"

11 "The Golden Coin is Almost Spent" 311

A Smooth Transition

"Everything That Was in Me"

12 Sunset 325

Notes 327

Sources 363

Photo Credits 372

Index 373

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    This book peaked my interest when I read a review for it in the New York Journal of Books, which proclaimed it an "instant classic" and raved that it's a "can't-put-down, lust-for-more read." I found it to be just that.

    Lyndon Johnson has been, for me, an enigma. Updegrove, by offering multiple views of LBJ from those who knew and worked with him, sheds light on his character and the complexities of his personality, while shedding light on the decisions he made in office. He weave those accounts into a narrative that is fluid and compelling. He also captures LBJ brilliantly in one phrase: "Flawed, yes, and not always good, but great." His book is great, too. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand this important and largely misunderstood president.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2012

    There seems to be no consensus among presidentiol historians as

    There seems to be no consensus among presidentiol historians as to where Lyndon Johnson ranks when compared to the other presidents. Some considered him to be in the top 10, whhile others cosider his tenure a disaster. After reading this book it's easy to see why. His famous temper and his hard ball political style is matched at the same level by his compassion and caring. His domestic program sucesses, that have had a positive impact on millions of Americans, is matched by the foreign policy disaster called Viet Nam. An intriguing biography, the book is also a history of one of America's most turbulent time.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 24, 2012

    I found the book really fascinating with a lot of information I

    I found the book really fascinating with a lot of information I was not aware of. The style was interesting (various quotes from different people) which put different issues in good perspective.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2012

    Highly recommended-great read!

    Highly recommended-anyone living through those turbulent 60's like me
    should have this in there library.
    Johnson was a force in the senate,and could of been a giant as President,if the Vietnam debacle didnt pull him down.
    Mark Updegrove gives wonderful insights from numerous people,especially
    Lady Bird,who was as devoted a spouse as one can be.
    Insightful,with candid photos which show Johnson in many shades.
    Essential reading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lyndon Johnson murdered John Kennedy and it is hard to put a shine on that.

    Hey, I have a question. Isn't it about time that scholarship in Lyndon Johnson addressed a very salient fact? Namely, that LBJ shot his way into the White House? Lyndon Johnson's signature achievement - the civil rights act - was his "get out of jail card" for the JFK assassination. Many liberals justifiably believed that LBJ was behind the murder of JFK, so he had to give them something. Civil rights was LBJ's bone to the liberals who deeply distrusted him. The real agenda of LBJ was to keep himself out of jail and free himself from the Bobby Baker scandal, preserve the oil depreciation allowance for other oil executive perps in the JFK assassination, reward hawks in CIA/military and let his good buddy Hoover keep his job. Mark Updegrove, the director of the LBJ Presidential Library, is in a pickle. Does he tell the TRUTH about Lyndon Johnson or does he get fired from his job? Many, many, many people in life choose to keep their jobs/status/position of privilege rather than tell the truth. Or, more importantly, even seek the truth. This book has the feel of a "rush job" - as if someone said get out something fairly positive on LBJ asap. So apparently the staff just glommed together some LBJ quotes and quotes about LBJ and "bingo!" we have an instant book, wafer thin on any analysis of LBJ and who he really was. Here is one of the quotes that the staff somehow overlooked. Gus Russo: In his oral history, Robert Kennedy bitterly recounted a remark that Johnson supposedly made to someone else after the assassination. "When I was young in Texas, I used to know a cross-eyed boy," Johnson said. "His eyes were crossed, and so was his character... That was God's retribution for people who were bad - and you should be careful of cross-eyed people because God put his mark on them ... Sometimes I think that what happened to Kennedy may have been divine retribution." JFK himself had slightly crossed eyes. [Leo Janos, LBJ speechwriter, Church Committee interview by Rhett Dawson, Oct. 14, 1975 ... also Gus Russo, Live by the Sword, p. 377] Another insightful LBJ conversation that was somehow was overlooked for this effort: the talk that Lyndon Johnson had on the night of 12/31/63, just 6 weeks after the JFK assassination, with his mistress Madeleine Brown at the Driskill Hotel in Austin: "Lyndon, you know that a lot of people believe you had something to do with President Kennedy's assassination." He shot up out of bed and began pacing and waving his arms screaming like a madman. I was scared! "That's bull___, Madeleine Brown!" he yelled. "Don't tell me you believe that ____!" "Of course not." I answered meekly, trying to cool his temper. "It was Texas oil and those _____ renegade intelligence bastards in Washington." [said Lyndon Johnson, the new president; Texas in the Morning, p. 189] I guess that would not put a shine on the LBJ legacy, would it? When will academia start addressing the ugly realities of the JFK assassination in an honest manner? Updegrove's first chapter is entitled "A Man Who Remains a Mystery." LBJ is not a mystery. It is just there are some folks who just don't want to address the dark side of Lyndon Johnson and tell us who he really was.

    1 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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