Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History

Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History

by Michael L. Gillette
     
 

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Over a span of eighteen years, Lady Bird Johnson recorded forty-seven oral history interviews with Michael Gillette and his colleagues. These conversations, just released in 2011, form the heart of Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History, an intimate story of a shy young country girl's transformation into one of America's most effective and admired First Ladies.

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Overview

Over a span of eighteen years, Lady Bird Johnson recorded forty-seven oral history interviews with Michael Gillette and his colleagues. These conversations, just released in 2011, form the heart of Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History, an intimate story of a shy young country girl's transformation into one of America's most effective and admired First Ladies.

Lady Bird Johnson's odyssey is one of personal and intellectual growth, political and financial ambition, and a shared life with Lyndon Baines Johnson, one of the most complicated, volatile, and powerful presidents of the 20th century. The former First Lady recounts how a cautious, conservative young woman succumbed to an ultimatum to marry a man she had known for less than three months, how she ran his congressional office during World War II, and how she transformed a struggling Austin radio station into the foundation of a communications empire. As a keen observer of the Washington scene during the eventful decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson shares dramatic accounts of pivotal moments in American history. We attend informal dinners at Sam Rayburn's apartment and opulent social events at grand mansions from an earlier age. Her rich verbal portraits bring to life scores of personalities, including First Ladies Edith Bolling Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Pat Nixon.

An informal, candid narrative by one of America's most admired First Ladies, this volume reveals how instrumental Lady Bird Johnson's support and guidance were at each stage of her husband's political ascent and how she herself emerged as a significant political force.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
…crisp and absurdly endearing…What's so uniquely winning about Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History, and what makes me grateful to have picked it up, are the old-fashioned and now threadbare virtues it evokes and relentlessly champions. You will find yourself ennobled by Johnson's example…You may suddenly find yourself in Lady Bird mode, practicing more selfless acts; writing more necessary letters; being more grateful; attending more to self-improvement; forgiving more people their thoughtless behavior. You may find yourself paying more attention to friendships and to nature, and trying to stretch, as she did, your awareness of, and capacity for, joy.
—Dwight Garner
Publishers Weekly
Gillette, former director of the LBJ Library's oral history program, has selected and edited these interviews, but the book belongs to Lady Bird Johnson. It captures her celebrated warmth, independence, pride in her own and her husband's achievements, and her ability to stand back and honestly assess her own and his motives, successes, and failures. The oral histories cover the first lady's life from her birth in 1912 through Johnson's presidency, thus throwing light on a more than half a century of American history. Just about every politically significant figure on the national stage turns up here, each caught (almost always generously) by Mrs. Johnson's discerning eye. Anyone interested in LBJ's election to Congress and his leadership of the Senate, Texas politics, the Johnsons's radio station, the crisis of Kennedy's assassination, and the Vietnam War will find Mrs. Johnson's reflections, from intimate knowledge, informative, delightful, and often riveting. Gillette himself deftly conducted most of the oral histories from which he draws; all have long been open to researchers and widely used (by such as LBJ biographer Robert Caro). Nevertheless, this volume, likely to be catnip to both fans and detractors of the Johnsons, makes available portions of Lady Bird's invaluable and incisive views otherwise inaccessible to the general reader. Photos. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"A crisp and absurdly endearing book... What's so uniquely winning about Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History, and what makes me grateful to have picked it up, are the old-fashioned and now threadbare virtues it evokes and relentlessly champions. You will find yourself ennobled by Johnson's example and may wield this book like a sunlit talisman against your post-holiday depression." —Dwight Garner, New York Times

"Gillette, former director of the LBJ Library's oral history program, has selected and edited these interviews, but the book belongs to Lady Bird Johnson. It captures her celebrated warmth, independence, pride in her own and her husband's achievements, and her ability to stand back and honestly assess her own and his motives, successes, and failures.... Anyone interested in LBJ's election to Congress and his leadership of the Senate, Texas politics, the Johnsons's radio station, the crisis of Kennedy's assassination, and the Vietnam War will find Mrs. Johnson's reflections, from intimate knowledge, informative, delightful, and often riveting." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[I]t is clear that Gillette is a master interviewer who is familiar and comfortable with his interviewee. ... The depth and detail of Johnson's memories are truly amazing, and her journalistic education shines through in her vivid descriptions of places, events, and emotions. ... [Gillette's] ability to seamlessly intertwine Lady Bird's recollections with those of others is one of the most impressive aspects of this book." —Sound Historian: Journal of the Texas Oral History Association

"Here's history at its best-as seen firsthand by a charming, clever, and canny woman. Lady Bird Johnson's voice, often funny and always elegant, rings out through these pages. A wonderfully readable book filled with unique insights about some of the most powerful people of the 20th century." —Cokie Roberts, political journalist and author of Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty

Library Journal
In this densely packed oral history, Gillette (former director, oral history program, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum) curates 18 years' worth of interviews that he and colleagues undertook with the first lady. She candidly discussed her life from her early years, through her husband's rise to prominence, and into the Kennedy administration and her time in the White House. This narrative provides much to illuminate readers about Lady Bird as well as her husband's inner circle and early political machinations. The chapters are arranged chronologically, and each begins with a brief introduction by Gillette, followed by the first lady's remembrances in response to brief prompts from the author or his colleagues. The resulting narrative reveals a tireless companion involved in her husband's every political ambition, if not as an actual participant in the decision-making process. With grace and aplomb, Lady Bird reflects on her family's move into the White House as "something like I had walked on stage for a role I never rehearsed." And yet she raised the bar for the role. VERDICT Readers who enjoyed the first lady's 1970 book, A White House Diary, will find this volume highly rewarding, as will memoir and biography buffs, and those interested in rounding out their collections.—Jewell Anderson, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ. Lib., Savannah, GA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199908080
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/26/2012
Series:
Oxford Oral History Series
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
973,834
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Michael L. Gillette directed the LBJ Library's Oral History Program from 1976 to 1991. He later served as director of the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and is currently the executive director of Humanities Texas in Austin. He is the author of Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History.

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