Pete daPixie's Reviews > LBJ: Architect of American Ambition

LBJ by Randall B. Woods
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's review
Jan 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history-u-s
Read from January 11 to 22, 2012

I have been reading this biography over a period of eleven days. Nine hundred pages, a long hard climb up the American political landscape of the twentieth century, that culminates in the rarefied summit of power and a thirty sixth presidency. It is no easy task for me (a subject of her majesty the Queen) to adequately review this book, steeped as it is in the political machinations of Uncle Sam. GOP is an acronym I would link with Gallup Opinion Poll, not the Grand Ole Party. While on the subject of these acronyms, this mighty tome is peppered with truncated nouns and such like. Acronym, Ohio.
'LBJ-Architect of American Ambition' from Randall B. Woods (2006) is the latest in a flurry of biographies on the subject. Bornet's 'The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (1983), Bernstein's 'Guns or Butter' (1994), Andrew's 'Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society' (1999) and Dallek's 'Lyndon B. Johnson-Portrait of a President' (2004) are some of the previous studies. Woods has coloured his portrait with a vast palette of history, reaching back to Johnson's grand parents under the big Texan sky, all the way through to the end of the sixties and ending where it began in the Pedernales. (Actually, forty years ago exactly today.)
As a teenaged rebel without a pause through the 1960's I do recall the 'hey,hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?', and since then the film 'JFK' with "that polecat Lyndon in the White House." Polecat:-large relative of the weasel which emits a stink. One LBJ anecdote was a story of a young man who was interviewing for a teaching job in a rural Texas district. The climax of the interview came when the redneck chairman of the school board asked the extremely stressed candidate "Do you teach that the world is flat, or do you teach that the world is round?" The young man hesitated and then replied, "I can teach it either way."
Woods opens with his Prologue, a four page account of Dealey Plaza. 'Jackie, her green suit still splattered with her husband's blood', I didn't think the most auspicious start. However, the twentieth century political history is an in depth study, that is related along with LBJ's inexorable climb up the Democratic Party pole as a Congressman in 1937, Senator in 1948, becoming majority leader in 1954. The real meat of this book takes off with the JFK/LBJ ticket of 1960, and for me was an engrossing page turner all the way, with LBJ, through the decade. The political maneuvers on both the domestic and international stages are both fascinating and surprising. The most tumultuous of times are documented here. Johnson's Great Society programme of social reform legislation, along with civil rights, education acts, environmental control laws, Medicare and Medicaid were a remarkable set of reforms, that became blighted by Vietnam, race riots, monetary cuts and further assassinations.
The author has used a huge wealth of source material such as White House tapes and thousands of released documents to give a reappraisal of 'that polecat Lyndon.'

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01/13/2012 page 117
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