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LONE STAR RISING by Robert Dallek


Lyndon B. Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960

by Robert Dallek

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-19-505435-0
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

 Readers who find Robert A. Caro's LBJ too Manichaean can turn to this hefty study (first of a projected two volumes), which covers the life and career of the young politico-in-a-hurry through the 1960 election. UCLA historian Dallek (Ronald Reagan, 1984; The American Style of Foreign Policy, 1983) believes that Johnson's current low esteem (a 1988 Harris poll ranked him at or near the bottom of 11 categories among recent Presidents) reflects one-dimensional portraits that highlight his pettiness and slight his tremendous achievements. In Dallek's view, LBJ was a ``liberal nationalist'' who consistently backed laws that boosted the fortunes of America's disadvantaged, as well as ``the greatest [Senate] Majority Leader in American history.'' This biography supplements Caro's in several crucial respects, including fuller discussions of LBJ's early, albeit halting, efforts on behalf of blacks, and of the rough-and- tumble Texas political wars, including Johnson's disputed 1948 Senate race (conservative opponent Coke Stevenson is not, in this telling, the good government pillar of Means of Ascent). Yet Dallek sometimes belabors the obvious in detailing Johnson's legislative wizardry (the founding of NASA, the first civil-rights act since Reconstruction, the indispensable bipartisan aid for Eisenhower's foreign policy). Solid if redundant on Johnson's sterling legislative record, but nowhere as brilliant as Caro in depicting LBJ's almost demonic energy. For that reason, despite its balance and careful research, it may be, as Dallek hopes, ``the scholarly biography of Johnson for the foreseeable future,'' but certainly isn't the most readable or vivid one. (Thirty b&w photographs--not seen.)