Books Gift Guide


Books Gift Guide

The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson: Volumes 4-6: Toward the Great Society, Feb. 1, 1964-May 31, 1964

edited by Robert David Johnson, Kent B. Germany, David Shreve, and Guian A. McKee; general editors: Ernest May and Timothy Naftali.
W.W. Norton & Co., 3,536 pp., $175.

When the first three volumes of the transcribed LBJ recordings were published in 2005, historian Eric Foner (writing in The New York Times) found them fascinating in detail and limited in scope. Foner concluded that the transcripts (primarily of the president's nonpersonal phone conversations) might be "the least revealing way of understanding the currents that tore apart American politics and society and with them the presidency of Lyndon Johnson," because they so narrowly expose "the insular world presidents inhabit."

That's not entirely fair: LBJ's Rolodex may have been confined, as Foner complains, to "the power elite," but the transcripts, as heroically edited by a phalanx of scholars from the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, reflect as well Johnson's broad range of policy preoccupations, tactical experience, and pragmatic political knowledge that will be fascinating not only to historians but to any advanced student of politics in action. (Playwrights may well be equally intrigued; only David Mamet or Harold Pinter would be able to approach the range of Johnson's verbal legerdemain.) Much of the volumes' bulk is in fact editorial connection and narrative.

In these four months, Johnson is settling into policy matters; establishing his partly real, partly public-relations "war on poverty"; lobbying intensely over pending civil rights legislation; and of course following the dismal "progress" of his inherited Vietnam War. But my current favorite moment is domestic – his irritation (expressed to adviser George Reedy) at the press corps' obsession with his unnewsworthy personal movements while at Johnson City: "They're a pretty bunch of chickenshits." And so they were.

Also recommended in Politics ...

Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault Against America's Fundamental Rights by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose (Random House, $24.95), Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Knopf, $25.95), The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday, $27.95).

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More LBJ
Doubling Down
Doubling Down
In The Great Society, playwright Robert Schenkkan and his subject, LBJ, both gamble big

Robert Faires, Oct. 10, 2014

More by Michael King
Two New Music Documentaries About New Orleans Merge Genres and Generations
Two New Music Documentaries About New Orleans Merge Genres and Generations
A river runs through it

May 20, 2022

How the Filibuster Has Already Undermined Democracy
How the Filibuster Has Already Undermined Democracy
The recent attacks on reproductive rights reveal another reason to let the filibuster burn

May 6, 2022


LBJ, The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson: Volumes 4-6: Toward the Great Society, Feb. 1, 1964-May 31, 1964

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle