Wednesday, October 18, 2006

lbj

Having finished the 50+ hour audiobook of David McCollough's Truman, I'm now about ten hours into Robert Caro's equally long book about Lyndon Johnson's years in the Senate. McCoullough's book was fantastic, but this one blows it away. What an amazing writer Caro is. He writes with such even-handed authority, spiced here and there with appropriate splashes of admiration and righteous indignation.

I have to say, though, I'm not yet sure what to make of Johnson, and what he means in the larger scheme of things. I mean, the guy was an asshole without equal. He was cruel to his wife, mean to his subordinates and hideously solicitous to his superiors. He would actually force his staffers to stand right beside him and dictate memos while he took a shit. And so, so mean to his wife. Just awful.

And he was, for much of his career, a typical racist Southern Democrat. He joined without hesitation in fillibusters against anti-lynching legislation. Used the N-word freely. Was the prodigee of Richard Russell, the smooth-tongued white supremacist after whom the Senate building is named (more on this later).

Yet, it's he who pushed Civil Rights legislation through.

What to make of this?

3 comments:

Bridget said...

I recently read a book about power and politics by Jeffrey Pfeffer. His descriptions of LBJ's development and use of political capital and power were interesting. The contention was that Kennedy didn't have the same ability to force the legislation through.

So how many hours is the Caro book?

I'm wanting to read Caro's bio of Robert Moses one of these years.

joe said...

I think the book is about 47 hours long. Ditto on the Robert Moses book

jack said...

Caro's "The Power Broker" is an essential read for anyone interested in urban governance and development over the last 75 years. Read it, hand in hand with Jane Jacobs, and you have the equivalent of a masters in urban planning, and a great read to boot.