The towering figure who sought to transform America into a "Great Society" but whose ambitions and presidency collapsed in the tragedy of the Vietnam War
Few figures in American history are as compelling and complex as Lyndon Baines Johnson, who established himself as the master of the U.S. Senate in the 1950s and succeeded John F. Kennedy in the White House after Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.
Charles Peters, a keen observer of Washington politics for more than five decades, tells the story of Johnson's presidency as the tale of an immensely talented politician driven by ambition and desire. As part of the Kennedy-Johnson administration from 1961 to 1968, Peters knew key players, including Johnson's aides, giving him inside knowledge of the legislative wizardry that led to historic triumphs like the Voting Rights Act and the personal insecurities that led to the tragedy of Vietnam.
Peters's experiences have given him unique insight into the poisonous rivalry between Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, showing how their misunderstanding of each other exacerbated Johnson's self-doubt and led him into the morass of Vietnam, which crippled his presidency and finally drove this larger-than-life man from the office that was his lifelong ambition.
Part of the admirable American President Series, edited by Peters, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Sean Wilentz, this concise biography continues the rehabilitation of the man who served as the 36th President of the United States. Peters, a former member of Johnson's administration, asserts that Johnson, raised in the nasty world of Texas politics, remained ruthlessly dedicated to his own advancement and became a great, if flawed, statesman. Congressman Johnson's work ethic and fawning charm appealed to FDR in 1930s Washington, but in 1948, power took priority, leading Johnson toward conservatism upon entering the Southern-dominated Senate. Despite his brilliance as majority leader during the 50s, few took his presidential ambitions seriously and the 1960 offer to be Kennedy's running mate was viewed as his only hope. But after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson transformed himself again, this time into a compassionate reformer. His Medicare and anti-poverty legislation closed out the Roosevelt era, and his civil rights bills (considered hopeless under Kennedy) made him the greatest benefactor of African-Americans since Lincoln. Although Peters details Johnson's Vietnam debacle with new insight, readers will still take away a vividly positive understanding of this president's accomplishments.