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An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
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An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  153 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
A top Washington journalist recounts the dramatic political battle to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that created modern America, on the fiftieth anniversary of its passage

It was a turbulent time in America—a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, a March on Washington and a governor standing in the schoolhouse door—when John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar rac
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
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(showing 1-30 of 900)
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Ok, this is my second favorite book of the year thus far. It should be required reading for EVERY American Citizen!

The year 1963 was a seismic one for America. From the racial imbroglios of Birmingham and the attempted discrimination at the University of Alabama to the death of our beloved president in Dallas, America was nothing if not a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. To attempt to combat the hatred brewing in the country President Kennedy decided to finally send a Civil Rights bill
Randall Smith
May 26, 2014 Randall Smith rated it really liked it
An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd Purdum.
Reading like an extended episode of West Wing, the book follows the tortuous route through which a bill must go: procedures that must be adhered to, hurdles to overcome, as well as the stalling techniques practiced by those opposed to its passage. Frankly, while reading the book, I wondered if John Kennedy would have had the political chops to get the Bill passed. Kennedy’s e
Apr 12, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing

The story behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a fascinating read of both history and politics. Todd S. Purdum writes a comprehensive account of the forces, both social and political, leading up to the writing of the bill and legislative battle to enact it. Within the account are men and women, whites and blacks, elected officials and lobbyists, proponents and opponents, and most importantly both Democrats and Republicans.

The book is divided into thre
Mar 23, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing
An idea Whose Time has Come covers the time period between the election of President Kennedy and the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The book by Todd Purdum expertly and concisely assesses the various threats that faced the passage of the Civil Rights act and looks at them from the perspective of the Presidents (JFK and LBJ) to Congress to the Civil Rights leaders. From the impeccable foes such as Southern Governors to J. Edgar Hoover the trails and tribulations of the bill ...more
Jessica Leight
Sep 18, 2014 Jessica Leight rated it really liked it
This was an interesting and very clear account of the legislative machinations that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Purdum did a particularly excellent job in capturing the broad range of legislative personalities - far beyond Lyndon Johnson - who were instrumental in the fight over the bill, and the brief biographical vignettes he provides of many of these individuals were thoroughly enjoyable. That being said, in some ways the account of the climatic battle seemed somewhat lacking ...more
Feb 20, 2014 Ryan rated it liked it
First off, I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.
Overall, this was an interesting, well-researched read. I didn't think that a book about a single piece of legislation would be as intriguing as this was, but Purdum's focus on each person kept a measured flow to the story. As I mainly prefer 19th Century American history, there wasn't a lot I previously knew about this subject, but the factual context was well-provided and made most of the read easy to grasp on to.
The only faults in
Dec 16, 2014 Jack rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
A useful overview of the legislative process in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. It's important to keep in mind, and the author notes this, that so much more was done to get the bill TO Congress - so many people were killed and hurt, and so many others marched and worked so hard before the US government considered taking on this issue. But it's also important to recognize how much work goes into getting bills through Congress. In fact, most important bills don't make it through.
But this
Andy Miller
Nov 02, 2014 Andy Miller rated it really liked it
As good as this book is, if you are going to read just one book about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I would recommend "Bill of the Century" by Clay Risen over this one. "Bill of the Century" is more substantive and focuses more on the people who deserve the credit for passing the bill such as Bill McCullough, the Republican from Ohio who pushed it through the House Rules Committee, Tom Kuchel, the liberal Republican from California who helped push Dirksen, Nicholas Katzenbach, the ...more
Michael Griswold
May 23, 2014 Michael Griswold rated it it was amazing
When one thinks of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they may think immediately of the giants of history: Martin Luther King Jr., The Kennedy Brothers, and Lyndon Johnson among others. Todd Purdum in his book “An Idea Whose Time Has Come” accomplishes something really interesting because he is able to give these grand historical figures their due, but also profiles several lesser known figures in the Halls of Congress during this period who fought for and against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The num
Sep 14, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it
To commemorate the 50th anniversity of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Todd Purdum tells the story of the Congressional maneuvering that resulted in the bill's passage. In just over a year, individuals such as Everett Dirkson, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson hammered out a compromise over the act that led to the longest filibuster in the Senate's turbulent history and was finally adopted with bipartisan support. An interesting, informative, and hi ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Adam rated it really liked it
In its published form, the rules and procedures of Congress--rendered as the Senate Manual and the House Rules and Manual--are voluminous, each coming in at just under 1500 pages.* On its surface, this fact might be explained away by the relative size and responsibilities of the legislative branch, which, after all, must oversee the world's largest military, largest economy, and third largest population. In truth, however, these 3,000 collective pages are a labyrinthine, almost unreadable series ...more
Mar 03, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it
This is a very complete look at the internal machinations that went on to get the Civil Rights Bill passed. If you are looking for a quick read, this is not it because it's hard to follow the names of almost 400 congressmen and their stance on different issues. But it is a very important chronicle of an important piece of legislation and I was struck by how similar some of the arguments made are to those now made for and against gay rights. A good read for a history buff.
Kevin Goldsmith
May 27, 2015 Kevin Goldsmith rated it did not like it
As a conservative Republican, I was delighted to read about the Civil Rights Act, as I was well aware that the historic civil rights legislation would have been dead without conservative Titan Bill McCulloch of Ohio (which both the author and Jacqueline Kennedy acknowledge). The books was great until the last twenty or so pages. It started an interesting history of the passage of the law, but then degenerated into petty left-wing talking points. For example, as evidence that the South is eternal ...more
Apr 06, 2014 Dave rated it really liked it
Full Disclosure - I received this book as a First Reads Giveaway.

When I started this book, I first thought that it was too detailed. But it needed this detail to enable the reader to understand all of the efforts and machinations to get the Civil Rights Act through congress - and in a form that had meaningful effect. The insight into the many players and the process involved was fascinating. But this was not just a book about the process for getting the Act passed, it was a look into the complex
Jeramy Lawrence
Jun 19, 2014 Jeramy Lawrence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More than history

Todd Purdum provides us with a clear, vivid, and dramatic account of one of the most important moments in American political, social, and moral life of the 20th Century. He infuses his account with style and grace, as well as with a great storyteller's gift of drawing us into the events and lives of the time and it's people. In the process he reminds us not only of the magnitude of the events he records, but also their prophetic message for the divided and torn world of today. A
When I was a small boy, almost every summer my family and I would visit my grandparents in North Carolina. The first two nights on the road we slept in the our station wagon. On the third night we would reach Knoxville, TN and be able to spend the night in a Howard Johnsons. Why sleep in the car? Back then, that is what African-American families had to do. Holiday Inn and the other motels located along the Interstate Highways would not lease rooms to traveling African-Americans. In order to prov ...more
Mar 30, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it
I received an advanced reading copy of this from the publisher via Goodreads' First-reads giveaway program.

"An Idea Whose Time Has Come" relates the convoluted steps leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, starting with the championship and oversight of the bill's design by the executive branch (namely the Kennedy brothers) and its subsequent evolution through passage in the House and Senate. This political development, rather 'dry' in itself, is of course set amid the turbulent
Louis Arata
Mar 22, 2014 Louis Arata rated it liked it
I received a free advanced reader’s copy through GoodReads.

The book covers the complicated history of the Civil Rights Act, from the plans of the legislative branch through the debates in the House and Senate. Purdum works well with a wide cast of actors, drawing their character and their history to give context to their political and social views. He’s at his best when he focuses on a principle actor, such as Robert F. Kennedy, Ev Dirkson, and LBJ, but it’s very clear that the Civil Rights Act
May 18, 2014 Jana rated it really liked it
Extremely interesting and detailed. Great bipartisan effort, with the opponents' general themes of "unconstitutional" "destroying my rights" "trampling on my liberties". Interesting how all those are used for just about any "cause". 2 minor errors by the author--he calls Robert Kennedy "Bob". Please call him Bobby or Robert. Also he noted that someone graduated from Ohio State University, not THE Ohio State University I penciled "The" in.
Roger Bailey
Sep 12, 2015 Roger Bailey rated it liked it
Leading up to the civil rights act there were freedom rides, sit ins, mass protests and a general upswell of mass action demanding equal rights for all. My criticism of this book is that those mass actions that pressured the politicians into actually taking legislative action are just barely alluded to in passing. I suppose it was hard to completely ignore what was happening on the streets, but this book certainly does not give a lot of attention to it. Instead, it gives the impression that the ...more
Jul 29, 2014 Katrina rated it really liked it
This is an extremely thorough account of how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was birthed, developed and finally signed into law. Not only does this provided a detailed account of this specific Act but Purdum provides the reader with the tortuous mechanics and lots of wheeling and dealing that is required to pass forth any kind of legislation. Really well done book that gives credit where credit is due specifically to unknown congressmen.
Jim Blessing
Jul 23, 2014 Jim Blessing rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This was an excellent read on the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Some moderate/conservative Republicans were the key to this. Too bad, there don't seem to be any of them willing to compromise and work together anymore (for fear of being tag-bagged)!
Jul 11, 2014 Becky rated it it was amazing
A must read for everyone. Much of what you think you know about the civil rights bill in the 1960's is wrong. Read the true details that will give you a better idea of the people, politics, and events involved in this historic legislation. A great read!
Apr 23, 2014 Danielle rated it really liked it
Purdum does a great job of making the Congressional Record readable. He intersperses backstory on the key players and keeps the number of players he references manageable. Informative and fascinating and goes down easily.
Jim Cullison
Apr 20, 2014 Jim Cullison rated it it was amazing
The definitive chronicle of the enactment of a towering piece of legislation...this history of great American governance is as engrossing as it is intellectually honest and meticulously detailed. Highly recommended.
May 24, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this as a Goodreads First Read and was impressed with the detailed narrative. I learned many details about the passage of the Civil Rights Act that I didn't know. It's a proud addition to my permanent bookshelf.
Jared Neal
Jun 13, 2014 Jared Neal rated it really liked it
I loved this book. The only thing holding me back from giving it a five star is I don't think everyone would enjoy it. If you like politics at all, this is a great window into how our congress passes bills. It was very interesting to get the behind-the-scenes info on how the white house influences congress, and how two opposing parties actually compromise.

That being said if you don't really care much for parliamentary procedure and filibusters and lobbyists and reelection bids, you might pass t
Mar 02, 2014 Rob rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This was a free book through Goodreads' First Reads giveaway. I thought this book was well written and fairly thorough, given the political wranglings involved in getting this bill passed through Congress. Even though the full content of the bill was not included (which would have made the book that much longer), it did reference the essence of the bill and its purpose. Some of the over abundance of details seemed to slow down the reading of the book, but if you can get past that and see how the ...more
Gerry Connolly
Apr 14, 2014 Gerry Connolly rated it it was amazing
Todd Purdum has written a blow by blow account of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Engrossing. Makes one nostalgic for days GOP was heroic.
John Rymer
Dec 14, 2014 John Rymer rated it really liked it
A bit uneven (too much of the legislative sausage-making, not enough "on the streets" context. But good.
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