A revealing biography of Lady Bird Johnson with startling new insights into her marriage to Lyndon Baines Johnson and her unexpectedly strong impact on his presidency.
Long obscured by her husband's shadow, Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson emerges in this first comprehensive biography as a figure of surprising influence and the centering force for LBJ, a man who suffered from extreme mood swings and desperately needed someone to help control his darker impulses.
Expertly researched and written, Lady Bird draws from rare conversations with the former First Lady and from interviews with key members of Johnson's inner circle of friends, family, and advisers. With chapters such as "Motherless Child," "A Ten-Week Affair," and "LBJ's Midlife Crisis," Lady Bird sheds new light on Mrs. Johnson's childhood, on her amazing acumen as a businesswoman, and on the central role she played in her husband's life and political career. A vital link to the Kennedys during LBJ's uneasy tenure as vice president and a voice of conscience on civil rights, Lady Bird is portrayed here as a political force, strikingly different from the somewhat minor figure depicted in previous works on LBJ. Especially fascinating today, in light of the enormous attention now focused on the private lives of our leaders, are the personal details about her marriage to a man whose extramarital affairs were widely discussed.
In this intimate portrait, Russell shows us the private Lady Bird -- not only a passionate conservationist but a remarkable woman who greatly influenced her husband, his administration, and the country.
The career of Hillary Rodham Clinton aside, it is only recently that the office of First Lady has been understood as engendering political power. The past decade has brought books detailing the complex relationship between presidents and their wives, in particular Blanche Wiesen Cook's landmark biography detailing the enormous role that Eleanor Roosevelt played in U.S. domestic and foreign affairs. Russell's engaging new biography of Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, written in part as a corrective to Robert Caro's multi-volume LBJ bio, Path to Power, is an attempt to move its subject out from under her husband's shadow. After extensive interviews with Mrs. Johnson, Russell presents a complex portrait of an intelligent woman trapped in the social conventions of a "Southern matron," whose idealization of her father colored her relationship with her husband and whose commitment to social justice helped shape LBJ's war on poverty. Russell's analysis is often insightful, as when she discusses how LBJ's class prejudice affected Lady Bird's fashion choices, or her conscious decision to distance herself from Jackie Kennedy's image as a decorator by identifying publicly with Eleanor Roosevelt as a "useful first lady." Focusing on Lady Bird's influence on LBJ's career and politics, Russell ends the book with the Johnson administration's final months, in 1969. Though it offers new and important historical information, Russell's effort, unlike Cook's brilliant work on Roosevelt, falls short of completely revising or illuminating our vision of the Johnsons' lives, politics and times.