Part of the admirable American President Series, edited by Peters, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Sean Wilentz, this concise biography continues the rehabilitation of the man who served as the 36th President of the United States. Peters, a former member of Johnson’s administration, asserts that Johnson, raised in the nasty world of Texas politics, remained ruthlessly dedicated to his own advancement and became a great, if flawed, statesman. Congressman Johnson’s work ethic and fawning charm appealed to FDR in 1930s Washington, but in 1948, power took priority, leading Johnson toward conservatism upon entering the Southern-dominated Senate. Despite his brilliance as majority leader during the ‘50s, few took his presidential ambitions seriously and the 1960 offer to be Kennedy’s running mate was viewed as his only hope. But after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson transformed himself again, this time into a compassionate reformer. His Medicare and anti-poverty legislation closed out the Roosevelt era, and his civil rights bills (considered hopeless under Kennedy) made him the greatest benefactor of African-Americans since Lincoln. Although Peters details Johnson’s Vietnam debacle with new insight, readers will still take away a vividly positive understanding of this president’s accomplishments. (June)
“This book is a rare gem of cogency and insight by one of America's most original thinkers on politics and government. In one slender volume, Charles Peters captures every relevant part of LBJ's life, breaks important new ground with fresh reporting, and offers peerless historical context. It's hard to believe for a book so short, but this is the finest one-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson yet written.” Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One and The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
“Tired of waiting for Robert Caro to wrap up his mammoth, multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson? If so, Charles Peters's sleek little number on the 36th president may ease your restlessness. Peters knows this material both as an insider . . . and as a longtime observer.” The Washington Post Book World
“A trim, astute portrait… Peters shrewdly assesses Johnson's legislative tactics and political manipulations, his idealism and staggering energies, his crudeness and cruelties.” The Atlantic
“The latest in the well-received American Presidents Series . . . Peters offers a nuanced portrait of Johnson's shocking ascension to the presidency in the wake of JFK's assassination--and explains how both LBJ aides and Kennedy aides became more spiteful and suspicious of one another.” The Christian Science Monitor
“This slim volume . . . will remind members of that generation what a fascinating figure Johnson was in his day and the extent to which his policies helped shape today's United States.” Dallas Morning News
“Charles Peters, who actually worked in the Johnson administration, insightfully and accessibly explores both Johnson the man and his political contradictions. . . . [An] outstanding biography.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] slim yet perceptive biography. . . . Mr. Peters, a veteran political operative who worked for President Kennedy, and founded the Washington Monthly, is admirably qualified to tell the story of Johnson and he does so with a measure of balance that most chroniclers of the Texan rarely achieve.” The Washington Times
Peters (founder, Washington Monthly; Five Days in Philadelphia) served as a Peace Corps administrator during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He draws on his experiences to provide insight as he sketches the life and times of Lyndon Johnson (1908–73), relying mostly on standard Johnson biographies. Peters describes Johnson's Texas childhood, his years in Congress, his frustrating years as Kennedy's vice president, and the triumphs and failures of his presidency (1963–68). The author identifies LBJ's successes (civil rights legislation and his Great Society domestic programs) as well as his failures (an abusive temper and escalating the Vietnam War) and concludes that Johnson's mixed legacy will be a subject for ongoing historical interpretation. VERDICT This book is aimed at general readers who want a brief account of this controversial President but don't want to delve into such excellent biographies as Robert Caro's three-volume (and counting) The Years of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Dallek's two-volume Lyndon Johnson and His Times. Its intended audience will not be disappointed with this fast-moving story.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA
A slim but penetrating biography of Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). Washington Monthly founder Peters (Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Willkie!" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World, 2005, etc.) paints a mostly unpleasant portrait of a fiercely ambitious climber who lacked any inhibition when it came to lying, cheating, bribing and betrayal. Though he doesn't conceal the 36th president's ugly traits or his role in the fiasco in Vietnam, the author also stresses that, along with Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson produced the greatest reform legislation of the 20th century. The son of a Texas legislator, Johnson grew up fascinated with politics. He learned the ropes in FDR's Washington before winning election to the House in 1937. He lost the 1941 Senate election due to his opponent's cheating, but he learned enough to cheat his way to victory in 1948. Although an enthusiastic New Dealer, he joined the nation's move to the right after World War II and became an equally enthusiastic Southern conservative. Accepting the obscure job of majority leader, Johnson fashioned it into a powerful office that streamlined the Senate's moribund procedures and gave him national fame as a political wizard. Young senator John F. Kennedy rejected his staff's opposition to choose him as running mate in 1960, believing correctly that Southern votes would determine a very close race. As president after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson displayed his genuine concern with poverty and injustice and, unlike later presidents, the political skill to do something about it. Before delivering a painful account of Johnson's disastrous involvement in Vietnam, Peters makes it clear that the 1964-65 civil-rights, voting-rights and Medicare legislation represent dazzling humanitarian achievements. With the final volume yet to appear, Robert Caro's magnificent biography is the standard-bearer, but Peters delivers a splendid short version.
Tired of waiting for Robert Caro to wrap up his mammoth, multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson? If so, Charles Peters's sleek little number on the 36th president may ease your restlessness. Peters knows this material both as an insider (he worked on the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, who picked Johnson as his running mate) and as a longtime observer (he went on to found and edit the Washington Monthly).
The Washington Post