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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark K. Updegrove

Published by Crown Publishers in March of 2012

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency is a biography composed mostly of snippets of interviews edited together to tell President Lyndon Johnson's story.

The book is designed to give the reader a view of Lyndon Johnson - the man. Johnson was a controversial man  - easily one of the most controversial of the 1960's. He is easily caricatured and mis-characterized. This ambiguity is odd considering that he was one of the most successful presidents of all time when it came to pursuing and passing a legislative agenda. If not for the Vietnam War, his legacy might be much different today.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973)
While I learned a lot more facts about Johnson than I knew before reading this book, I did not get a better read on the man himself. His motivations were so mixed and his outbursts so frequent that I could not (and still cannot) tell if he put himself behind legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make a name for himself, because it was the right thing to do or if it was done just to confound people. Perhaps it was all three. Was he a bully, a flirt, a schmoozer or just the most versatile politician of his era?

Johnson's stormy relationship with Eastern elites shines through, but this is well-known. Johnson's frequent womanizing is alluded to just once despite numerous pages dedicated to the relationship between LBJ and "Lady Bird" Johnson. This issue is emblematic of a problem with the book in general. The author if the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Museum in Austin, Texas. As such, he has access to more of Johnson's papers than just about anyone else. But, I think it is clear that this book was written from the perspective of a fan of LBJ. Fans diminish (or even explain away) the negatives and focus on the positives.

The oral history format of the book was sometimes interesting, but oftentimes it was very repetitive with multiple people expressing the same or very similar thoughts back to back on LBJ and the issues of the day.

Bottom line: the book does little to shed light on the mercurial personality of LBJ. I you know nothing about LBJ, this is a solid place to start. If you know something about him already, you will know more after the reading the book and still not really know the man.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency

Reviewed on November 4, 2012

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