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The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  108 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the single most important piece of legislation passed by Congress in American history. This one law so dramatically altered American society that, looking back, it seems preordained-as Everett Dirksen, the GOP leader in the Senate and a key supporter of the bill, said, “no force is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” But there ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Bloomsbury Press
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Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
May 11, 2014 Susanna - Censored by GoodReads rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in political history, or the history of the civil rights movement
Fascinating. Now I want to read a bio of Mike Mansfield.

For a further review: .

My ARC courtesy NetGalley; much thanks.
Steve Kettmann
Apr 03, 2014 Steve Kettmann rated it it was amazing
I'm going to give this book to at least five family members and friends to read, that's how highly I regard its insights and importance.
Andy Miller
Sep 26, 2014 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing
This book shows America at its best, our country coming together to give our federal government the power to tell southern states that they could no longer discriminate on the basis of race. And it worked, the de jure segregation ended almost overnight after passage of the federal law

One thesis of this great book is that history has simplified the passing of the Civil Rights Act as being due to the efforts of Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King but that the reality is that they had little to d
Alex Orr
Nov 13, 2013 Alex Orr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: u-s-history
Mr. Risen's book is a cold hard look at the legislative process involved in getting the Civil Rights Act passed. The level of research is absolutely breathtaking and frequently becomes a day-by-day account of the shifting allegiances, strategies, and fortunes of the bill, its supporters, and those determined to stop it. The legislative process is something that is often overlooked or simply ignored by casual, and even emotionally invested political observers, and as a result, it's wonderful to h ...more
Shayla Williams
Mar 03, 2014 Shayla Williams rated it it was amazing
Shelves: firstreads
The joy of history is that I don't need to tell you what happens. There's nothing new there. What's new is the enthusiastic voice of the author. This book was written by someone with a clear and focused love of his subject. It's not just another dry tome for history buffs- it's equally accessible to the curious, the passingly interested, and the rabid enthusiast.

I won a copy through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program.
Jul 09, 2014 Jbondandrews rated it liked it
The Bill of the Century had some interesting points to it although I should have liked to have learned more about the people involved and their personal experiences for being for or against the bill and how much did it actually help African-Americans.
Jul 03, 2014 Nekquai rated it it was amazing
Definitely a must read for everyone, it just gives a much deeper background into all of the work that it takes to pass a bill,any bill not just the civil rights bill
Miles Cotillier sr
Feb 16, 2017 Miles Cotillier sr rated it really liked it
The most in depth book of true chronological events that help the civil rights bill to be passed.
Wonderfully written by Cly Risen.
A pleasure to have in my library.
Alexei Averchenko
A very detailed and reasoned account

This book gives a very detailed account of how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was conceived and what it took to put it on the president's desk. The authors make a very explicit point against the great people history by outlining efforts of individual legislative and civic leaders, as well as the larger effort of many in the civil rights movement. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more books like this one, and at just a couple of dollars it's a steal!
Lane Willson
Feb 02, 2015 Lane Willson rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Concocted from a recipe of political players and events so surreal it would give Salvador Dali pause, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is most assuredly the single piece of legislation with the greatest impact on the United States in my lifetime. Clay Risen’s The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act does a wonderful job of bringing the tension between President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 and the elections that would follow a year later.

The frequency with which
Ted Hunt
Oct 05, 2014 Ted Hunt rated it really liked it
The cliché says that lawmaking is like making sausage; while the end product might be tasty, you do not want to see it happening. And that is one of the points of this book about the creation and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was a messy, picayune, exasperating process, one that included the longest filibuster in American history, and this book provides us with all of the messy details. The focus is on the individuals who were largely responsible for its passage, people who do not ...more
Benjamin Dueholm
Feb 19, 2015 Benjamin Dueholm rated it it was amazing
This account of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act eschews deep biographical dives on the key players (a la Robert Caro) and nation-spanning social tableaux (a la Rick Perlstein) in favor of a tight and highly effective focus on the legislative mechanics, lobbying and deal-making that turned the bill into law. It is more surprising and thrilling than a detailed legislative procedural on a famous bill that passed both houses of Congress by big margins has any right to be. It also raises up ...more
May 09, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it
NY Times op-ed editor Clay Risen's history of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is one of several published in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the law - Todd Purdom's An Idea Whose Time Has Come is another, but I haven't read it yet. This book is well-researched and well-written, with the feel of lots of "insider detail," because Risen has gone to the archives of more than just newspapers to get his information. Lots of primary sources are cited. It is interesting to read a politic ...more
Jul 28, 2014 Catherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: polarization
"In a tragic counterpoint to the triumph of July 2, two weeks [after the bill had been passed], Harlem and parts of Brooklyn erupted in three days of rioting. The violence was touched off by the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, but it also gave vent to black anger over unemployment, police brutality, school and housing discrimination, and poor city services in minority neighborhoods. Similar rioting broke out in South Central Los Angeles the next year, Cleveland the year after, Newa ...more
Bill Sleeman
Dec 25, 2014 Bill Sleeman rated it really liked it
Clay Risen has written a detailed and well researched history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I particularly enjoyed the depth of his analysis of the cloakroom and chamber maneuvers that eventually brought the bill to the floors of the Senate and the House for a vote. In the process we learn that Johnson’s Civil Rights bill really wasn’t and was instead a typical bouillabaisse of ideas, desires and real need (with no small amount of horse-trading) that we learned about in American Government 10 ...more
Riley Cooper
Nov 16, 2014 Riley Cooper rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book in which the author is able to take a topic that might seem rather boring to the average person and make it a suspenseful journey to the passage of the "bill of the century". The characters featured here are colorful politicians who found a way to work together but encountered many obstacles along the way. The author explains - backed by extensive research - how individuals decided to take actions for or against each step of the process. He also addresses topics such as ...more
Aug 14, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
It took me a while to read this book, but I learned so much. About one of the most important steps in our country’s modern history, about how our legislative government works, and how the people can wield influence through cultural force. This book puts the years of 1963-1964 into the full context of their social and political climate and follows the many people and paths of influence required to move our country forward.

There is a passage near the end of the book that sums it up succinctly:”At
Sep 15, 2014 Samantha rated it liked it
Shelves: history-books
This was definitely an informative book. Risen gives a lot of detailed information about the lesser known people also played a large role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act. While he does discuss MLK, JFK, and LBJ quite a bit, he gives a lot of credit to the grass root organizations, the Congressmen, and everyday Americans. I gave this book 3 stars, because I don't personally care for political books. However, I am glad I read it, since I gained a much better understanding of the Civil Right ...more
Dec 24, 2014 Gorian rated it liked it
Fascinating insights into the legislative complexities of getting such a bill passed. Discussion of the larger social trends that enabled such action is somewhat light, although the emphasis on the role of religious groups nicely complements gaping holes in my historical knowledge. That said, intended, as implied in the acknowledgements, to be a book of serious historical research, there is often an overwhelmingly long roster of last names to remember, making certain paragraphs a chore to comple ...more
Patricia Graham
Jul 07, 2016 Patricia Graham rated it liked it
Way too detailed. Could have been an article rather than a book. Good for someone doing research. Gives day by day account in Senate and Congress of key players in the approval of the bill. And there were many key players.

There were some eye-opening educational points. Like the chicanery that goes on when bills are presented in both chambers. Some senators hiding in the cloakroom to see how the vote is going - to avoid voting until the last minute. And having the announcer at the baseball stadi
May 05, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
A balanced and lively portrayal of the eight-ten months it took to get the civil rights bill of 1964 passed. Starts just before Kennedy's assassination and ends with the signing in July 1964. The book seems especially relevant today given how difficult it is to get anything passed through the house and senate. Book gives insight into this contentious, ego-ridden and seemingly impossible process that somehow works (at least sometimes). Focus is on the multiple players and their roles in making th ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it
A complete history of a bill from its inception, legal drafting, subcommittee hearings, backroom deals, and record setting filibusters all the way to its eventual passage. Who would've thought it could all be told in such an interesting manner? Clay Risen has done an incredible job of making every moment of the struggle to pass the civil right bill feel dramatic. I wish that Aaron Sorkin would make a historical one season show about how this bill was passed.
Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein
Mar 31, 2014 Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein rated it really liked it
As a 1960's buff, I'd highly recommend this for its comprehensive look at the strategy and machinations behind passing the Civil Rights Act. I think it gives short-shrift to the overall leadership of Lyndon Johnson but if you want a blow-by-blow look at the legislative battles for it (once literally after Everett Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader, got drunk on the floor of the Senate), this is great. Also, has an interestingly revisionist take on JFK's legislative successes.
Kevin Scott
Jan 12, 2015 Kevin Scott rated it it was amazing
Great book. Great detail. There are times when I wish Risen had put a "cast of characters" at the front of the book (because, at the outset, I forgot who "Marshall" was and kept assuming it was Thurgood, not Burke), but this is a great story of how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to be. In addition to the people that Risen wants to give credit to (like Katzenbach and McCulloch), Kennedy (John) comes off well in this retelling.
DeMon Spencer
Apr 29, 2014 DeMon Spencer rated it liked it
Recommends it for: someone who's just learning about the politics of passing civil rights legislation
It was an ok book. Not bad but not great either. I was hoping to learn a lot of new information about the passing of the civil rights act and the voting rights act, but little new info was offered. I'd recommend this for someone who's just learning about the politics of passing civil rights legislation.
Pat Carson
This title goes into the behind the scenes work that was needed on Capitol Hill to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most of the general history books don't have the space to give us the whole story. Something that concentrates on the actual passage is worth the read. Love to see AP students try this out.
Jun 29, 2014 Karl rated it really liked it
It was fun to look back at a time when I was just becoming aware of politics and its impact. The book both captures the time as well as being instructive in how the forces are assembled to pass a historic bill. The political differences then were similar to the differences today. The divide was primarily between the North and the South.
Sep 25, 2014 Bill added it
Fascinating account of the creation of one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history. One of the biggest takeaways was that it took BI-PARTISAN effort to pass it. Back then you could work with your political foes to accomplish things. 3.75 Martinie glasses.
Sep 24, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it
Great detailed read about the background and tremendous effort that Kennedy, Johnson and many others put into this historic accomplishment. What a shame it required such a fight, and we still struggle with inequality issues in this country.
Daniel Farabaugh
Dec 29, 2014 Daniel Farabaugh rated it really liked it
This was an excellent recounting of the events that allowed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It really did a good job of showing how the various figures involved came together to overcome the opposition. The book is very factual and follows a step by step account.
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