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Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,566 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
Doris Kearns Goodwin's classic life of Lyndon Johnson, who presided over the Great Society, the Vietnam War & other defining moments the tumultuous '60s, is a monument in political biography. From the moment the author, then a young woman from Harvard, 1st encountered President Johnson at a White House dance in the spring of 67, she became fascinated by the man: his ch ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 15th 1991 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 1st 1976)
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Lobstergirl
Feb 06, 2015 Lobstergirl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the Glenn Miller Orchestra

What Doris Kearns Goodwin does well here:

1) She digs deep into LBJ's personality. She knew him professionally, working in his White House, and quotes extensively from his direct conversations with her. He wanted her assistance in writing his memoirs, a project which never got off the ground.

2) She pinpoints his skillsets, what he's good at and deficient at, and how these skillsets help or hamper him in different institutional settings. She explains how his talent in one-on-one interactions and h
...more
Linda
Aug 04, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it
When I was about 12 I sent a letter to LBJ asking him to take my dog, a long-haired dachsund, so that I could get a collie. After all, he already had two dogs with floppy ears, right? I got an authentic autograph in return. Somehow that started my preoccupation with LBJ and his career.

At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was a newly commissioned play about the man - All the Way - which deals with the time between the death of JFK and the election of LBJ in his own right. It was absolutely fascinat
...more
Misty
Jan 17, 2009 Misty rated it liked it
This was the first book Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, and you can tell. It reads a little bit like a college thesis. The attempts at psychoanalysis and the comparisons to Machiavelli kinda got on my nerves and got in the way of the storytelling for me.

She worked with LBJ in the later years of the presidency and afterward, and those were the moments that were most interesting to me. Her writing about those times is so good, and you get a real sense of the type of person he was. You can also tell th
...more
James
Aug 22, 2014 James rated it it was ok
At first I balked at the 22-page forward written by the author some years after publication, but as it turned out, that was by far the most interesting part of the book. This book was truly a stuggle to finish, but I persevered and after 8 weeks I got there! This was a very sanitized portrait of Lyndon Johnson, no controversy here other than what one would have heard on television during his presidency. No mention of the "Johnson Treatment," or ties to the assassination. Doris Kearns Goodwin was ...more
Jennifer Nelson
I'd heard a few things about President Johnson before reading this book: he was brash and egotistical, he held his dogs up by the ears, and he added a lot of welfare programs during his tenure. So, I didn't know much going in, but thought it would be an entertaining read, perhaps. But, I was disappointed to find out that "brash" and "egotistical" are not exaggerations of his personality, but almost nice ways of describing an extremely self-centered, egomaniac tyrant. A lot of times his petulant ...more
Alex Orr
This was Kearns' first book, and to a good extent, it shows. The writing is stiff and often very dry, with little narrative skill. Kearns' tendency towards amateur Freudian psychoanalysis also frequently comes off as cringe-worthy, even more so in an era in which most Freudian concepts have been shaken off as highly speculative nonsense. The book also gives virtually no historical context to most of the events that take place, though since it was originally published in 1977, it was probably tho ...more
Mark T
Nov 02, 2008 Mark T rated it really liked it
Since I was a war protester and my draft number was 33, I had no love for Lyndon Johnson during his presidency. Since then, I had come to appreciate his dramatic role in changing the face of civil rights in America. The behind the scenes look at Johnson, from his pragmatic days on Capitol Hill to his lonely decisions amid a group of "smart" advisors, was excellent.

As a side note, I spent a good portion of my business career in East Asia. You would be surprised at the number of Asians that are m
...more
Mike Johnson
Mar 07, 2015 Mike Johnson rated it it was amazing
I just came back from a weeklong trip to Texas with My wife and a couple of friends to visit 3 presidential libraries (Bush 41, Bush 43 and Lyndon Johnson). Although all three were interesting, I found the LBJ library/museum by far the best. Not nearly as much flag waving and use of war exploits to glorify the presidents' images. We also visited the TX Book Depository where Oswald shot JFK, LBJ's family home and the TX White House where he relaxed and later died.

I've always enjoyed watching Ms G
...more
Deanna
Jul 29, 2015 Deanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this as a pre-publication edition, from netgalley, 2015 newest edition of this book.

This was a well- written biography of a fascinating man.

Most biographies are a dry chronology of facts or an endless list of irrelevant information. This very readable biography merges the public and private life to create a greater understanding of the rise of Lyndon Johnson from the common man in Texas, to one of our greatest presidents.

I have rarely found a biography to be a "can't put it down" book
...more
Casey Wheeler
I received a prepublication copy of this book (August 4, 2015) through NetGalley with the understanding that I would publish are review on my blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google + pages along with NetGalley, Amazon and Goodreads.

I requested this book because I am have read several presidential biographies, but none on Lyndon Johnson. I have also read several books by Doris Kearns Goodwin and found all of them to be well written and researched.

This was very different from other president
...more
Ann
Mar 11, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it
Excellent book on the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Kearns Goodwin puts Johnson into the context of the rise of the modern Presidency and the structure of power inside the modern White House. She also explains why Johnson's personality and his experience as Senate majority leader contributed to his failure in international affairs and his single-minded pursuit of the Vietnam War.

For those who became active during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and the antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s, it
...more
Joe
Nov 01, 2011 Joe rated it liked it
A meditation on the evolution of the American political system as much as an account of Johnson's life and times, Goodwin's book is a dense and daunting read. The absorbing and riveting personal narratives of Team of Rivals are somewhat missing in this earlier historical work of Goodwin's. Instead, Goodwin revisits again a much more psychological interpretation of a president, exploring his "mommy" issues and his recurring dreams.
My take aways:
Johnson was well-intentioned and by his own metrics
...more
Kathryn
Mar 20, 2010 Kathryn rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book. Growing up, I had always had a vague notion of Lyndon Johnson being a vile person -- probably mostly because of the picking his dog up by the ears incident, with smatterings of Vietnam (which I was removed from as my parents / uncles / parent's friends were too young to be effected). Although he is revealed to be a liar and a scoundrel, the pleasure of this book is better understanding what an amazing strategist he was -- and that his strategy was often used f ...more
Jennifer
May 30, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it
LBJ was an interesting politician during one of the most interesting times in US History. LBJ accomplished many admirable goals and had many dismal failures during his tenure in Washington. This books offers a fairly intimate view of LBJ and what led to some of his actions. I can appreciate it for that.

It could have been better.
Doris Kearns Goodwin took someone, who is well known for being an outright son-of-a-bitch, and tried to make him look an ambitious, jolly fellow with a boatload of mommy
...more
Willis
Jun 23, 2012 Willis rated it liked it
I like Doris Goodwin's books. My favorite is "Team of Rivals" that she wrote. This is one of her earlier books and is more of an "official biography". She was asked to write this and had a lot of time with Lyndon Johnson during the last few years of his life. He is a tough subject to write about, because of his tendency to exaggerate and tell stories he absolutely believed in, but weren't true. So the bulk of the book focuses on his career in the Senate and as President, with very little about h ...more
Byron Edgington
Nov 21, 2015 Byron Edgington rated it it was amazing
Here we have a political/social/psychological and personal (ized) biography of one of the more enigmatic men ever to occupy the Oval Office. Lyndon Baines Johnson became president of the United States on November 22nd 1963 and served for five tumultuous, disruptive, yet hopeful and progressive years until the war in Vietnam and his policies to win it defeated him. Much more than simple biography, Goodwin's book on LBJ doesn't just describe this president's hands, it shows what's under his finger ...more
Dana
Feb 11, 2015 Dana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated by Kennedy, the 60s and almost everything else related to that history. I read Doris Kearns 1976 Biography of LBJ to try to understand if Kennedy's Successor really deserves his tarnished image? in July 2013, Kearns Goodwin makes a joke that the first person that would confront her in her afterlife would be LBJ, who she said would scream at her "how come that book on the Kennedys is twice as long as the book you wrote about me?" After reading the book, I find it hard to believe t ...more
Unwisely
May 18, 2014 Unwisely rated it liked it
Bad reviewer, I let this go for a couple of weeks, so I have to remember what I read.

I picked this book up for a couple of reasons - I had gone to the LBJ museum in January, and of course I'd seen Doris Kearns Goodwin on the Daily Show. Also a nice librarian once handed me the Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln to read, but it was enormous and not something I wanted to haul around. (I do some of my reading on the bus.) I only found out when complaining about the wait list th
...more
Meredith Watts
Apr 25, 2015 Meredith Watts rated it really liked it
This is a very well-written book, which draws on the author's personal relationship with Johnson. She served him as a White House intern, and later became a confidante and personal assistant in his efforts to write his memoirs. Every quote she attributes to him has a solid ring of truth.

Goodwin does not shy away from offering her psychoanalysis of Johnson. She ties her perceptions of his personality and strengths and weaknesses in with the story of his ascension to power and extraordinary effec
...more
Elizabeth
Mar 02, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
As a young woman getting her degree, Doris Kearns Goodwin was a fellow in the Johnson White House. Her anti-war politics clashed with the President, but he saw in her a smart woman who might be able to help him write his memoirs.
After he retired from the Presidency, he coerced Goodwin to spend weekends and vacations with him on his ranch to help him. He never did write his memoirs, but their warm honest relationship is depicted in this book. Goodwin writes with affection, but is glad to recoun
...more
Daniel
Aug 26, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it
The book often writes of LBJ as a second FDR. Which seems like a fair assessment since he created an ambitious domestic agenda addressing social & economic issues as well as being the president during a long war. LBJ longed to be seen in that light as well. However, Goodwin addresses his faults and seems to come to the conclusion that many others have: If not for the Vietnam War, LBJ might have been more worthy of the comparison. In short, Vietnam both undercut and robbed his attention from ...more
Chris
Jan 09, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it
Excellent writing. A fascinating, brutally honest portrayal of a man who was possibly the greatest political manipulator to ever hold office. Vietnam was his downfall, not just because of the social implications of the war per se, but also because he could not manipulate the situation; i.e., he could not sit down with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong and work his magic.
Jayson
May 17, 2015 Jayson rated it it was amazing
I started this book during our trip to Austin and couldn't put it down. It feels blasphemous (considering where the Kennedy's stand in my political mythology), but I've come to believe LBJ to be one of the most effective and interesting (if tragic) leaders Americans have ever had. This account in particular, written after Kearns' intimate relationship with the president, gives an incredibly revealing portrayal. She'll cite political science on the one hand then follow it up with the recurring dr ...more
Brandy Bones
Sep 07, 2015 Brandy Bones rated it liked it
Shelves: us-history, biography
It's good in that it covers the entire gamut of his life fairly and deftly (while perhaps short changing some of his greatest legislative accomplishments). However it is too often overly sentimental and psychoanalytical. This distracts from the narrative rather than adding to it. At first it was intriguing that Goodwin knew LBJ well and rather intimately (I had no idea until I started reading this book) but as it turns out that was the book's biggest weakness. Her tangents into the psychology of ...more
Liz
Sep 15, 2015 Liz rated it it was amazing
I received this book thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media.

I was born well after Lyndon Johnson's death so I am only aware of his legacy through history books. Due to my age, I often held a negative view of Johnson as a result of his connection to the Vietnam War. I chose to read this book because I wanted to learn more about the man, rather than his Vietnam War legacy. I am so glad I decided to read this book! This book illustrates the real Lyndon Johnson, starting from his childhood to his y
...more
Lowell AfdahlRice
Aug 11, 2009 Lowell AfdahlRice rated it really liked it
Not as extensive or interesting as Caro's volumes, but Kearns adds her own psychological and political analyses that makes for a gripping read.
Carmen
Oct 12, 2015 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ken Siroky
Recommended to Carmen by: Was on sale and looked good!
This book seemed to be a psychological study of President Johnson in that it described issues in his family when he was a child. His father was a wild impulsive cowboy/local politician who was a big disappointment to his mother who subsequently met many of her needs through her son, Lyndon. I learned that President Johnson was a genius politician who knew how to get people to compromise and was probably one of the most powerful senators ever. However, personality traits which helped him excel in ...more
Chuck
Sep 05, 2014 Chuck rated it really liked it
Concentrating mainly on Lyndon Johnson's political career (there is scant mention of his wife and children), this book is not a full-scale biography, but it does provide an absorbing account of LBJ's rise and fall in the political arena. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin first met Johnson when she was a 24 year-old White House intern. He took an immediate liking to her, and over the years she served as Johnson's confidant while he offered ruminations that provide a vivid perspective on the man from hi ...more
Peter Mayeux
Jan 13, 2016 Peter Mayeux rated it liked it
Doris Kearns Goodwin books always capture my attention. They are generally well written and carefully documented. This is her first biographical history book. Much of the information she provides comes from direct contact with Lyndon Johnson. Outside sources are not used as much as in later volumes. I thought it was unusual that this book contains no photographs. There are several excellent first-hand/primary source sections that distinguish this account of LBJ’s political life from other effort ...more
K Steven
Aug 10, 2015 K Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished Doris Kearns' (now Goodwin's) outstanding biography of LBJ on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. If you read no other book about Lyndon Johnson, his life and his presidency, then you will find this one most satisfying. In it, Ms. Kearns not only takes us on a journey along with LBJ as he developed into one of the most successful legislative masters of the American federal system, but also on a journey into the mind of the man. We come to unders ...more
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Also credited as "Doris Kearns" on the first editions of Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.
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“Johnson saw preoccupation with principle and procedure as a sign of impotence. Such men were “troublemakers,” more concerned with appearing forceful than in exercising the real strengths that led to tangible achievement.” 0 likes
“A true leader is a man who can get people to work together on the points on which they agree and who can persuade others that when they disagree there are peaceful methods to settle their differences.” 0 likes
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