Cover image for LBJ : a life
LBJ : a life
Unger, Irwin.
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Publication Information:
New York : Wiley, [1999]

Physical Description:
v, 586 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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E847 .U59 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E847 .U59 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From a Pulitzer prize-winning writer, the only single-volume biography of the towering yet enigmatic leader--from his humble origins to his rise to America's highest office. Flawed as a human being, Lyndon Johnson was a towering public figure of his era, a man whose social programs changed America in profound ways. In this compelling new biography, Irwin and Debi Unger explore the political and personal influences that made Johnson such an unpredictable, charismatic, and difficult man, depicting his life as a constant tension between political expediency and doing the right thing for Americans.

Author Notes

Irwin Unger won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for The Greenback Era. His most recent book was The Best of Intentions: The Triumph and Failure of the Great Society under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
Debi Unger is a writer, editor, and researcher, and was most recently coauthor of Turning Point: 1968.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In death, as in life, Lyndon Baines Johnson remains a larger-than-life character, which may be why most of the major biographies offered to date are multivolume works: there's simply too much there, positive and negative, to fit between two covers. But after the Caros and Dalleks produced the fully researched works, other writers can distill them for readers who can't quite see reading two or three volumes about LBJ. The Ungers have written about the Johnson administration before; here they take on the man himself, from the Texas hill country to the capital city beside the Potomac and back. The Ungers describe this complex politician, widely viewed as both hero and villain, as experiencing, more than most leaders, constant tension between choosing the path of political expediency and taking action in the best interests of the American people. Historians and those who really want to wallow in the details of Johnson's life and career will choose one of the major multivolume biographies; for less-ambitious folk, the Ungers' work tells more than enough. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Readers familiar with the original, exciting research of LBJ biographers Robert Caro (working on volume three for Knopf), Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ronnie Dugger and Robert Dallek will find this volume derivative, if accessible. Historian Irwin Unger (The Greenback Era, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965) and Debi Unger (coauthor of America in the 20th Century) seem to be neither pro-Johnson nor anti-Johnson. Their main concern is to give an accurate chronology of LBJ's career, which they do. The authors capture LBJ's hell-raising Texas childhood and adolescence, his surprising ascent from backwater schoolteacher to ruthless politician, his domination of the U.S. Senate, his elevation to the White House after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his passionate advocacy of a Great Society, the Vietnam War, his downfall, his restless postpresidential life until his death in 1973, his complicated marriage to Lady Bird, his womanizing and much more. While the authors emphasize that, throughout his life, LBJ struggled to balance the often tawdry practicalities of politics with his more elevated commitment to social justice, they shy away from making a definitive judgment on LBJ's performance. Their own performance is adequate and well-written, but only a strongly articulated assessment of LBJ would have distinguished this book from other biographies. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Few authors have attempted a one-volume life of the idealistic but controversial Lyndon B. Johnson, and none has succeeded like Irwin Unger (The Best of Intentions, LJ 4/1/96) and Debi Unger. This engaging, well-researched biography draws on many of the recent fine works of the Johnson years, notably Robert Dallek's Flawed Giant (LJ 3/15/98) and Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-64 (S. & S., 1997), edited by Michael Beschloss. The Ungers synthesize these and other works to portray LBJ as a president driven to help people but victimized by his own pathologiesÄa need for constant approval, an abusive temper, and a probable mood disorder. Johnson the moderate always felt under attack by Republicans and also by the powerful conservative and liberal factions of his own Democratic Party. His greatest victories brought on personal elation along with a depressing sense of urgency. The Ungers do not include a summation of Johnson's mixed legacy but conclude with a bittersweet account of his four postpresidential years. Highly recommended for academic and most public libraries.ÄKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. v
1 Beginningsp. 1
2 Collegep. 21
3 Congressional Secretaryp. 35
4 Young Bureaucratp. 51
5 New Deal Congressmanp. 68
6 Rehearsal for the Senatep. 88
7 Time Out for Warp. 105
8 "Landslide Lyndon"p. 123
9 Freshman Senatorp. 142
10 Minority Leaderp. 161
11 Majority Leaderp. 181
12 The Civil Rights Act of 1957p. 203
13 To Run or Not to Runp. 220
14 Campaign Year 1960p. 240
15 Vice Presidentp. 254
16 "Let Us Continue"p. 289
17 High Waterp. 334
18 Guns vs. Butterp. 383
19 Retreatp. 407
20 Renunciationp. 439
21 Winding Downp. 478
22 Last Daysp. 504
Notesp. 539
Indexp. 572