Carson and Johnson (both Journalism/Univ. of Arizona) have assembled a great many facts about Udall, who died in 1998, but facts alone don’t illuminate a life. Their narrative covers decades of recent political history without supplying the historical context and analysis necessary to make sense of the parade of information. As a result, it’s difficult to appreciate the magnitude of Udall’s many achievements, which range from his environmental legislation to his role in reforming the congressional seniority system. The authors’ lack of perspective is evident in their treatment of Udall’s ancestors, youth, and early adulthood, which are of marginal interest to anyone other than family members or Arizona history buffs yet occupy one-quarter of the book’s text. Carson and Johnson interject such profound personal events as Udall’s divorce and his second wife’s suicide into discussions of political events without warning or elaboration. Full chapters about Udall’s private life and sense of humor are tacked on towards the end but fail to flesh out this portrait. Instead, the congressman comes across as a self-centered, somewhat unsympathetic figure, which is clearly not the intention of the authors, who knew and respected him. Their subject would have been far better served had they focused exclusively on the key themes of his professional career.
The publisher no doubt hoped to preserve the legacy of one of the university’s best-known alumni, but this unfocused effort is simply not adequate for that purpose. (16 halftones, not seen)