SAM JOHNSON'S BOY by Alfred Steinberg


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Sam Johnson's boy ""just a country boy from Texas come to howdy and shake"" -- is of course President Johnson in what is certainly the most voluminous book on him to appear thus far. However you would certainly have to dislike him a great deal to read these some 1100 pages about Lyndon and his Ladybird and his whirlybird politics, particularly in view of Robert Sherrill's much sharper Accidental Presidency (1967) and the Eric Goldman book still to come this season. Steinberg, a veteran journalist, has not footnoted any of this which is chiefly based on ""direct talks. . . with hundreds of persons"" so that when, for instance, Johnson in 1951 avows his presidential ambitions, it is to an ""a"" for anonymous magazine writer. This will certainly invalidate as a permanent background book what was perhaps originally intended as a massive anti-campaign document. When Steinberg earlier wrote his Mrs. R., Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. commented that Steinberg's ""admiration for his subject too often distracts his judgment."" Certainly the opposite prevails here from the time when Lyndon is seen at a green age with a ""burning desire"" for the green stuff, failing to absorb his mother's intellectual and cultural prodding (""he never opened a book or a magazine"" unless Ladybird forced him to), a loud, brash, aggressive, ruthless young man of personally uncouth habits who became the ""greatest argufier"" and cloakroom compromiser on the political scene for four decades. Steinberg spends much more time on Johnson's politicking than his statesmanship, reviews all the early Congressman-Senator-majority leader years at great length while spending relatively little space on his presidency. What emerges throughout is a portrait of Johnson as a boor and a bully, ""fighting for personal power and wealth,"" and totally unfit for the position he ultimately achieved. Were Mr. Steinberg at any point truly evaluative, the work at this time and at this length might not seem so supererogatory.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1968
Publisher: Macmillan