Matt Mishkoff's Reviews > Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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M 50x66
's review
Feb 08, 2012

liked it

I think a lot of my frustrations with this book boil down to that it isn't quite the book I wanted it to be. It's heavy on biography and especially personality psychoanalysis and a bit light on history, and I was hoping for more of the latter. For instance, passage of Medicare, surely one of Johnson's most enduring achievements, is given short thrift with just a couple of paragraphs. At other times Goodwin mentions historical events, like the Tet Offensive, without giving the reader even the slightest background on them. Perhaps at the time the book was written (1977) she didn't feel the need to offer more detailed background because the events were more recent, but I think that makes the book not hold up as well decades later.

That being said, there is much to enjoy about this book. Goodwin, having worked closely with Johnson for many years, obviously knows her subject well and writes about his motivations, tactics, and personality with expertise; you really feel like you get to know the man by the end. She also does a good job at not letting her fondness for Johnson get in the way of writing an objective, balanced account of his life and doesn't shy away from criticism.

The picture that emerges of Johnson is of a driven man with a very unique and effective set of political skills that took him to the presidency, but that also proved his undoing when they led him to making disastrous decisions regarding our Vietnam policy. A man with a large ego that needed constant stroking, but also a man of good conscience that genuinely cared for the plight of the poor and minorities. His administration accomplished much good, like the passage of Great Society programs like Medicare and the two Civil Rights bills, but then erased much of the good work he had done by refusing to realize the limits of American intelligence and power in Vietnam.

Overall, if you're not ready to tackle the Caro books and you're looking for a good one-volume book on Johnson, this isn't a bad one, even with its shortcomings.

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