Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Hardcover, 1987




New York: Harper & Row, 1987.


An engrossing biography of President Lyndon Johnson from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Team of Rivals. Doris Kearns Goodwin's extraordinary and insightful book draws from meticulous research in addition to the author's time spent working at the White House from 1967 to 1969. After Lyndon Johnson's term ended, Goodwin remained his confidante and assisted in the preparation of his memoir. In Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream she traces the 36th president's life from childhood to his early days in politics, and from his leadership of the Senate to his presidency, analyzing his dramatic years in the White House, including both his historic domestic triumphs and his failures in Vietnam. Drawn from personal anecdotes and candid conversation with Johnson, Goodwin paints a rich and complicated portrait of one of our nation's most compelling politicians.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member queencersei
This book covers LBJ, from his birth in a small Texas town, rise through the Senate, becoming President and eventual retreat from public life during Vietnam. The author explorers Johnson's early relationships, paticularly with his parents and beloved grandfather and how these people shaped the
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driven man that he became. At his best as a behind the scene's mover in the Senate, driven by his childhood teachings to use aquired power for the benefit of others and the spiral of events that led him to disaster in Vietnam. Johnson is not the hero or the villian of the piece. A complex man, trying to do good during the most trying of times, Lyndon was haunted by his decisions and undone by a war he felt he could not avoid and a population that he thought he served faithfully, only to be scorned by them.
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LibraryThing member SCRH
An important work by an excellent author.
LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Former US President Lyndon Johnson is one of the more difficult to understand presidents. He reached the heights of politics through an assassination. He changed America permanently through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-5. Pragmatically, he attempted to build a nation based on equal opportunity
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through the Great Society. He had an unparalleled genius for administrative leadership in the Senate and Oval Office. Yet he led the nation down a horrific course in Vietnam and seemed to disregard basic facts and popular sentiment – to his and the nation’s detriment.

This book put Kearns Goodwin on the map as an articulate biographer and won her a Pulitzer Prize. Readers are often struck by the psychoanalytic parts of this book. Much of that stems from her unfettered access to Johnson after his presidency. She wanted to understand the man, not just the historical leader, and the main lens she had to offer was an understanding of his childhood. Whether or not the reader appreciates this is out of her control. The veracity of this understanding of LBJ seems to have stood the test of time.

Now a national gem, Kearns Goodwin is at her best in this book when describing how Johnson handled the civil rights of African Americans. She does not portray him as a white savior but as someone reasonably reacting to the events of his time. She also explains the backstory to the escalation in Vietnam. The events of Vietnam take a step to the rear as she explains how this tragedy unfolded in this great man’s mind. She clearly respects Johnson yet struggles openly to understand his tragic flaws.

Although written 40-50 years before this review, this book maintains much relevance to American readers. As the baby-boom generation ages, its psychological deficits – moored in no small part in the experiences of Vietnam – continue to be displayed on newspapers’ front pages. These features were defined with the events of the JFK assassination, the presidency of Johnson, and the subsequent presidency of Nixon. Unfortunately, America still seems mired in the shortcomings of this era, now displayed in ideological partisanship. Perhaps a better understanding through Kearns Goodwin’s original epic might serve us well.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
I would give the first few chapters five stars plus. The story of LBJ's childhood, school years, years as a teacher and his work in the National Youth Administration, his courtship and marriage to Lady Bird and his time as a congressional aide were absolutely fascinating. LBJ was a born political
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force and so incredibly smart and intuitive in reading people. The chapters on his time in the senate, as vice president and his early years as president were equally fascinating. His thought process on the Great Society reforms was mind-blowing at times. He was a very complicated man. But the chapters on Vietnam and the end of his presidency were just downright depressing. He lost his way with that war and his justifications became more and more divorced from reality. He went from being a heroic (yet very flawed) figure to being pitiful, paranoid and unable to accept any criticism. It was very sad. I do appreciate that Kearns Goodwin did not equivocate when it came to LBJ's flaws. You can tell that she very much admired him, but she never apologized for his shortcomings and often did a beautiful job of speculating as to his motives and motivations. Very interesting for anyone wanting to know more about LBJ.
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LibraryThing member erwinkennythomas
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973)
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream is a monumental work that captures this American president at his best and worst. From a childhood in Texas while at home, and at school Johnson was deeply influenced by his mother Rebekah. The author went
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at length to portray this aspect of his life by showing how he longed to please a mother who was rather demanding. But Johnson was able to eventually shift his loyalties to Sam, his father, who was a political figure in Texas.
At San Marcos College Johnson made his mark by manipulating the system where he was a student. Soon, he was working closely with the college’s president that orchestrated changes in student government. On graduation he endeavored to follow in his father’s footsteps, and went to Washington DC as an office manager to congressman Richard Kleberg. There, he mastered the intricacies of congressional life by learning the ropes.
Having been able to attract the attention of Franklin Roosevelt, he was appointed to the post of NYA programs, and returned to Texas where he worked. There he was able to cultivate a political base. Eventually, Johnson ran for congress in the 10th district. With that success he returned to Washington DC as a congressman, and was able to further master the workings of the congressional system. Having been in congress for a number of years he brought results to his constituents with the implementation of electricity and water systems.
But congress was only a stepping stone. Johnson was successful in a run for the senate in his second attempt in Texas. In Washington DC as a senator, he once again made his way through committees to become minority leader. Later, he was the majority leader of the Democratic party. Johnson was a master in this post with the amount of legislation that was passed. His success didn’t end in the senate. But eventually he became Vice-President to John F. Kennedy and was less effective. In this role he often thought he was being sidelined in the Kennedy administration.
With the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States. He did a remarkable job of calming the fears of a distraught nation during these troubling times. Quickly, he moved to pass legislation that was pending in the Kennedy administration. One of his remarkable achievements was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was soon followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that enfranchised Black Americans. Months after Johnson won a landslide election against Barry Goldwater, he ushered in legislation for his programs on the Great Society. These addressed poverty, education, social security, welfare, transportation etc.

Yet, these successes were not to last. Johnson became bogged down with the Vietnam war. He was unable to function effectively with the country’s foreign policy initiatives. Often, he was given conflicting advice from his advisors on the war. He couldn’t face the fact that America was doing badly in propping up South Vietnam against North Vietnam. Johnson ordered more bombings which were not the solution. He was lying to the public concerning how the war was going. War budgets were hidden from them. With the Tet offensive, the coming of new elections, inflation, losses to the Great Society programs, Johnson broadcast to the nation that he won’t seek election as President of the United States. He retired to his ranch in Texas where he died on January 23, 1973 of a heart attack.
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