“My effort here is to give firsthand testimony on the man and president I saw, ‘with bark off,’ as he used to say when he wanted me to describe a difficult situation cold and true, with no punches pulled.…The Lyndon Johnson I knew was brave and brutal, compassionate and cruel, incredibly intelligent and infuriatingly insensitive, with shrewd and uncanny instinct for the jugular of his allies and adversaries. He could be altruistic and petty, caring and crude, generous and petulant, bluntly honest and calculatingly devious—all within the same few minutes.”—Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Joe Califano—Lyndon Johnson’s closest domestic adviser during the White House years—has created a remarkable presidential portrait, a frank, tough-minded memoir that reveals not only the singular personality of LBJ, but the rough grain of American politics. More than previous biographers, scholars, or reporters, Califano—who worked day and night in the trenches with LBJ—shows us who Johnson really was and recreates life in the White House at the height of the turbulent sixties.
Lyndon Johnson was bigger than life—and no one who worked for him ever forgot it. Writing with perception and energy, Califano captures his mentor’s lively, irascible spirit as he puts us in the White House alongside LBJ during such momentous events as the assassination of Martin Luther King and the wrenching violence that followed, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the national trauma surrounding the Vietnam War. We see Johnson manipulate the economy and the Supreme Court; confront race riots in Watts, Newark, and Detroit; and deal with the Arab-Israeli Six Day War. We witness his achievements in the areas of education, health care, consumer safety, civil rights, environmental protection, and the arts. And we watch him squander his credibility, as he doggedly wages both his wars—the one against poverty and the one in Vietnam—determined to prevent the blood-shed in Southeast Asia from spoiling his dream of a Great Society at home.
The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson is an intimate portrait of a president who towering ambition for his country and himself ultimately led to his decision to surrender the arena in which he fought so hard. Joe Califano has added uniquely to our understanding of LBJ, whose achievements and mistakes mirror his own complex and contradictory nature.