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The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years

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This intimate memoir of LBJ is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Johnson's White House years, written by one of his top domestic advisers. "What makes this memoir . . . stand out is its vividness. Johnson leaps out of the pages in all his raw and earthy glory".--The New York Times Book Review. 16 pages of photos.


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This intimate memoir of LBJ is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Johnson's White House years, written by one of his top domestic advisers. "What makes this memoir . . . stand out is its vividness. Johnson leaps out of the pages in all his raw and earthy glory".--The New York Times Book Review. 16 pages of photos.

30 review for The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.' ~ LBJ The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years by Joseph A Califano is an insider's look at the LBJ presidency. Califano, a Harvard Law graduate, served time in the navy and Defense Department. At the start of the Kenedy Administration, he was selected by Robert McNamara to become one of the "whiz kids" in the Defense Department. His work If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.' ~ LBJ The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years by Joseph A Califano is an insider's look at the LBJ presidency. Califano, a Harvard Law graduate, served time in the navy and Defense Department. At the start of the Kenedy Administration, he was selected by Robert McNamara to become one of the "whiz kids" in the Defense Department. His work did not escape notice as LBJ appointed him Special Assistant to the President in July of 1965. There have been plenty of biographies of LBJ, but this one is written by a man very close to him. More than just facts and numbers, Califano brings a personal side of LBJ into view. LBJ was president and he was determined to let people know he was their president. He was very Machiavellian in his politics and that is meant in the traditional sense of the word. Machiavelli was brilliant in manipulating people to achieve a goal, and that goal was generally for the good. LBJ, like Machiavelli, tends to get a bad wrap in contemporary history. LBJ is best remembered for the war in Vietnam, the draft, and the Chicago riots. Califano tells how LBJ used people in a very divided Democratic Party and his political opponents, the Republicans, to achieve his goals. Califano tells of swimming with LBJ at the ranch in Johnson City. In the middle of the lap, LBJ stops and talks to Califano. Califano is treading water struggling to stay afloat as LBJ talks to him jabbing his finger as he goes. LBJ is clearly in power here not only is he the president, he knew exactly where to stop so that his feet were firmly on the floor of the pool. LBJ made an ally in Everett Dirksen the Republican Senate Minority Leader. Dirksen was able to gather support for LBJ's programs when Southern Democrats refused. LBJ did not pander to the other party, he did not hide his dislike for House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. "Ford is so dumb he can't walk and chew gum at the same time." Johnson once said about the future president. The example in the book of Ford reviewing LBJ's Vietnam options is used to support that claim. Johnson always seemed the gruff old man to me. Califano shows the opposite is true in both cases. Time on the ranch showed Johnson to be a fun person at times and very human. The other point surprised me also. Johnson was 55 when he became president and left office at 60. What was the purpose of LBJ's politics? What did he really want his legacy to be? Civil Rights, The Great Society, and equality. Johnson worked hard for civil rights and fought many in his own party over the issue. He talked and met with Martin Luther King. Johnson saw poverty first hand as a school teacher in Texas. He wanted to see the end of poverty in this country and an end to discrimination. This can be seen in both the programs he proposed and the people he appointed. He tried to make the draft fairer by drafting 23-year-olds first nullifying the college deferment for the rich. He wanted to save America's natural beauty. LBJ pushed for environmental protection acts and beautifying the highway system. Although probably best known for gathering of political support, arm twisting or otherwise, LBJ was not afraid to cross party lines. He met at least twice with Eisenhower for advice. His legacy still remains Vietnam. He didn't want the war, but we were there and leaving would be a sign of surrender to the Soviets. He really believed that American boys should not be doing what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves. The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson is a detailed and revealing book about the 36th president of America. It is the story of what he fought for, what he faced, and how he lived. An excellent biography of a historically misunderstood man.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson” is Joseph Califano, Jr.’s 1991 memoir based on the three-and-a-half years he spent as Special Assistant to President Johnson. Califano later served for almost three years as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter. He is the founder of The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the author of about a dozen books. The scope of this 349-page book is centered https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson” is Joseph Califano, Jr.’s 1991 memoir based on the three-and-a-half years he spent as Special Assistant to President Johnson. Califano later served for almost three years as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter. He is the founder of The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the author of about a dozen books. The scope of this 349-page book is centered upon events Califano observed from his perch in the Johnson administration. Although he occasionally expands the focus in order to observe the genesis of policy matters arising prior to his arrival, at its core this book is a free-flowing first-person narrative where the reader becomes a “fly on the wall” during Califano’s tenure in the White House. Much of the book’s narrative (and nearly all of its best insight) derives from conversations in which the author was directly involved. But where he has to fill in the gaps with traditional research, he seems to do so judiciously. Many of the policy topics Califano discusses were important issues of the day such as Vietnam, the Great Society and fiscal matters. Others were far less substantive, but offer equally compelling insight into the day-to-day operations of LBJ’s administration. The most valuable portions of the text include the relatively new twenty-one page introduction, which adds context and perspective to the narrative, and much of the last one-third of the book. In these last chapters Califano covers LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election as well as his perspectives on the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations, the Abe Fortas Supreme Court mess and the selection of the 1968 Democratic presidential nominee. But in the book’s earliest pages it is immediately clear (if not at all surprising) that Califano is a fan of Lyndon Johnson. Readers expecting to encounter meaningful criticism of liberal politics, of LBJ’s brash style or of any of his appalling character flaws will be disappointed. The glass is perpetually at least half-full and Califano almost always gives Johnson the benefit of the doubt. In addition, serious students of history are likely to find the easy, uncomplicated narrative too breezy and unsophisticated. Policy issues are not rigorously dissected for cause-and-effect or followed diligently through the legislative process. Instead, they are simply the means for monitoring back-room deliberations. The book’s purpose, it often seems, is to provide a full sense of the personalities involved rather than the merits of the matters themselves. Finally, the narrative all too often feels like a stream of consciousness - almost as though the reader is on LBJ's version of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" careening through the rugged terrain of late 1960s policy challenges. In the end, the author's ultimate goals seem to be highlighting LBJ's domestic successes, defending his foreign policy failures and arguing for a more favorable presidential legacy. Overall, Joseph Califano’s “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson” proves a fast-paced, interesting and generally sympathetic portrait of Lyndon Johnson. Not designed as a comprehensive account of Johnson’s life or even a thorough review of his presidency, its mission is relatively limited. But Califano’s book does provide the reader a unique, engaging window into Johnson’s priorities, personality and style. Overall rating: 3¼ stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Ellis

    I listened to the audiobook during my morning walks, and found it very well read and easy to follow. The book, authored by President Johnson's domestic adviser, Joe Califano, is focused almost exclusively on Johnson during the White House years, his domestic policies, his vision for the Great Society, and on his interactions with the author in his role as a chief policy adviser. And of course, the story is told from one usually, very admiring point of view. Although some of my childhood passed I listened to the audiobook during my morning walks, and found it very well read and easy to follow. The book, authored by President Johnson's domestic adviser, Joe Califano, is focused almost exclusively on Johnson during the White House years, his domestic policies, his vision for the Great Society, and on his interactions with the author in his role as a chief policy adviser. And of course, the story is told from one usually, very admiring point of view. Although some of my childhood passed during the Johnson years, the real beginning of my political memories is more from the Nixon years, And so, I found this book just whetted my appetite to learn much more about the Johnson years, his role in Vietnam, and all of his domestic programs. On to the Robert Caro series...

  4. 5 out of 5

    John Mchugh

    This was gifted to me, and I admit I enjoyed this description of political events I lived through as a younger man. In amongst the vast store of passages cataloging who said what to whom, and when, I did find some interesting and amusing stories well worth telling and reading. It also provided and least one man's insights into the motives and character the the movers and shakers in the Johnson White House and its' environs. But while it did offer me some new understanding of Johnson the man, it This was gifted to me, and I admit I enjoyed this description of political events I lived through as a younger man. In amongst the vast store of passages cataloging who said what to whom, and when, I did find some interesting and amusing stories well worth telling and reading. It also provided and least one man's insights into the motives and character the the movers and shakers in the Johnson White House and its' environs. But while it did offer me some new understanding of Johnson the man, it was mostly a detailed history of the events that transpired in the years covered. Fairly dry reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Good book on the ultimate politician. Interesting to read of the inception of social programs that continue today.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Don

    The 1960’s were my teen years. I learned of President Kennedy’s assassination during an 8th grade English class. The Johnson presidency and that tumultuous decade formed the backdrop to my own coming of age. Joseph Califano’s memoir of his years as advisor to the President bring back a flood of memories, recapture so much of the time, and paint an intimate picture of LBJ, the man, the consummate politician, the President, and an insider perspective on the events and politics of the time. For The 1960’s were my teen years. I learned of President Kennedy’s assassination during an 8th grade English class. The Johnson presidency and that tumultuous decade formed the backdrop to my own coming of age. Joseph Califano’s memoir of his years as advisor to the President bring back a flood of memories, recapture so much of the time, and paint an intimate picture of LBJ, the man, the consummate politician, the President, and an insider perspective on the events and politics of the time. For me, this is a well-written “wow” book well worth your time whether it is your first “LBJ book” or one of many that you’ve read. Califano provides us a clear view of both the forest and the trees, a portrait of what was during one of the most influential and consequential presidencies in our nation’s history. As seen from inside the White House and Johnson Ranch, Califano gives us an understanding of LBJ’s underlying principles and motivations, a fascinating view into his incredible energy and talents as a politician, and a crisp tour through the political history of the rise of those years – civil rights, poverty and the legislative creation of The Great Society, summers of race riots, the tragic impact of the Viet Nam War, the economics of a “guns and butter” policy, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, LBJ’s announcement that he would not seek re-election and the 1968 election. Califano was a participant or observer of much of the action reported in his memoir. His characterization of the President and his Presidency are given touching endorsement in a thank-you letter from LBJ’s daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, who notes that her father “jumped off the pages.” If you are interested in politics and presidents, you’ll enjoy this tour!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim Gallen

    “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson” is Presidential Aide Joseph A. Califano’s account of the Administration and personality of its subject. A Kennedy appointee, Califano planned to leave Washington until Cyrus Vance persuaded him with the promise that “This town has never seen a President like Lyndon Johnson.” He stayed through to the end. The strength of this tome is the insight into the day to day White House whirlwind that can be provided only by one who has lived it. The clashes “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson” is Presidential Aide Joseph A. Califano’s account of the Administration and personality of its subject. A Kennedy appointee, Califano planned to leave Washington until Cyrus Vance persuaded him with the promise that “This town has never seen a President like Lyndon Johnson.” He stayed through to the end. The strength of this tome is the insight into the day to day White House whirlwind that can be provided only by one who has lived it. The clashes between the White House staff and Department Secretaries, such as Robert McNamara under whom Califano initially served, and the relationships between Administration figures, including Dean Rusk, Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy shine new lights on our history. Johnson’s candid assessments of Robert Kennedy (ruthless, ambitious), Ramsey Clark (“If I had ever known that he didn’t measure up to his daddy I’d never have made him Attorney General”), Gerald Ford (one of the least thoughtful and most partisan Republicans in Congress), Richard Nixon (hated him, chronic campaigner) and Nelson Rockefeller (one of the nation’s ablest and most dedicated public servants) present informed evaluations of actors of his era. Some of the anecdotes are entertaining, such as visits to the LBJ Ranch when Califano was made to tread water while LBJ stood in the deep end, was taken on the tour of sites and taught how to tie a neck tie. Readers are left with an impression of a man who needed to dominate those with whom he worked. The author tells the big story leavened by personal memories to keep the story interesting. I recommend it for anyone desiring an understand of Johnson and his Administrations.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Harrison

    Joseph Califano has a clear bias in favor of Johnson, considered he worked for him the entire Administration it’s not surprising. It does however prevent clear and unbiased analysis of the policy of the Johnson years. He hardly talks about Vietnam at all, mostly to cover Johnson’s skin for his enormous failures on the issue. He prefaced the book by saying that it’s time to analyze this administration while looking past Vietnam, which is the equivalent to saying let’s analyze the Nixon Joseph Califano has a clear bias in favor of Johnson, considered he worked for him the entire Administration it’s not surprising. It does however prevent clear and unbiased analysis of the policy of the Johnson years. He hardly talks about Vietnam at all, mostly to cover Johnson’s skin for his enormous failures on the issue. He prefaced the book by saying that it’s time to analyze this administration while looking past Vietnam, which is the equivalent to saying let’s analyze the Nixon administration while looking past Watergate, or the Bush administration while looking past Iraq. He instead decided to cover strictly domestic policy, he is fairly comprehensive about a lot of the economics and trade issues during the 1960s but without Vietnam, and with a clear bias in favor of Johnson the book is hardly comprehensive. The book scores points for his vivid description of Johnson, and you can clearly see his character which was interesting. This book is more for people who either love Johnson and don’t want to hear criticism, or for people deeply involved in economic and other domestic affairs.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    TITLE: The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK: It is part of my quest to read about every US president REVIEW: I am not sure if I like the reader or not. He had an unusual voice that sticks with you but was also distracting. This biography was written by a Lyndon Johnson aid, so it has a slant to it. Not that the author doesn't present Johnson warts and all, but the author is forgiving of Johnson's faults. I had not realized, or forgot, that Johnson TITLE: The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK: It is part of my quest to read about every US president REVIEW: I am not sure if I like the reader or not. He had an unusual voice that sticks with you but was also distracting. This biography was written by a Lyndon Johnson aid, so it has a slant to it. Not that the author doesn't present Johnson warts and all, but the author is forgiving of Johnson's faults. I had not realized, or forgot, that Johnson came from humble beginnings, and was a man who fought his way to the top. He could be direct, and crude not wanting to put on airs, and caring more about getting things done, than the niceties of the thing. He is a man who evolved, and truly wanted to make a more just society and alleviate suffering. He actually did accomplish substantive things with his Great Society. He was wrong on Vietnam although that was not a situation he created just one he allowed to endure. A very fascinating guy. I learned a lot but definitely will need to read more from a less biased perspective.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Parnell

    Really enjoyed this book that focused on President Johnson's time in the white house, in spite of the narrow vision of this narrative. The author highlights the social highlights that the president instigated. However, these were choked for funds to make way for the Vietnam war that had priority over everything else.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    For what this book is...a recap of the Presidential years by a staffer...it is good. It kept me interested and gave me a good idea of who Johnson was. The organization is not great, as it is mostly just a plunge through time, and the writing isn’t stellar, but it still works.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Tyo

    I’m so into LBJ.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Don S.

    Well written, though obviously biased, account of LBJ in the White House.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Great insight into the President.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dominique

    An Up Close and Personal Account of working with Lyndon Johnson [Note: Review transitioned from Barnes & Noble website] Joseph Califano--Special Assistant to the White House on Domestic Affairs (1965 - 1969)--has written a memoir about his experience working with President Lyndon Johnson. When President Johnson succeeded John F. Kennedy to the throne, Johnson wanted to continue his predecessors legacy by creating the Great Society. The timing was almost perfectly right during the 1960's to An Up Close and Personal Account of working with Lyndon Johnson [Note: Review transitioned from Barnes & Noble website] Joseph Califano--Special Assistant to the White House on Domestic Affairs (1965 - 1969)--has written a memoir about his experience working with President Lyndon Johnson. When President Johnson succeeded John F. Kennedy to the throne, Johnson wanted to continue his predecessors legacy by creating the Great Society. The timing was almost perfectly right during the 1960's to push through large quantities of social reform and Civil Rights laws. President Johnson pushed through Congress bills to help the disadvantaged more than any other President in history resulting in a decrease in the poverty rate from 20% to 12% and assisted in the starting of unifying a racially hostile nation. In the process of President Johnson's Great Society program bearing fruit, issues of the Vietnam War, war protesting, rioting, and assassinations caused the President and his administration difficulties. In this up close and personal account, Joseph Califano describes the triumph and tragedy that took place while he consulted the President in achieving his goals who had to make large sacrifices and give up running for a second term to reduce the dividing of an emotionally distraught nation (Vietnam War). Because Califano was the Domestic Affairs Assistant, it shouldn't be surprising to know that 85 to 90 percent of the book covers domestic policy and 10 to 15 percent covers foreign affairs, most notably the Vietnam War, which brought the Johnson Administration to its knees. The book is at times comical but also has a sad ending (hence the title: The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson) and I would recommend it to Johnson fans or those who have an interest in politics, history, or the 1960's. Word count for dictionary/reference review: 171 Grammatical error count: 5

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris Burd

    I genuinely knew next to nothing about President Johnson prior to reading this biography. I knew that he signed the Civil Rights Act, but I did not know how passionate he was about civil rights. I had no idea that his presidency gave us much of the consumer, environmental and equal rights protections that we have today. I walked away from this book with a much greater appreciation for President Johnson. However, I would not generally recommend this book as a comprehensive biography - and it is I genuinely knew next to nothing about President Johnson prior to reading this biography. I knew that he signed the Civil Rights Act, but I did not know how passionate he was about civil rights. I had no idea that his presidency gave us much of the consumer, environmental and equal rights protections that we have today. I walked away from this book with a much greater appreciation for President Johnson. However, I would not generally recommend this book as a comprehensive biography - and it is not intended to be. The author, Mr. Califano, was a close advisor and White House aid during his presidency, and the book is really intended to be more "White House Memoir" than biography. It certainly does give you a look at the complicated nature of Johnson's personality and his politics. Because of his role, Mr. Califano focuses mostly on Johnson's domestic policy and Great Society legislation. The cloud of the Vietnam War is certainly discussed, but it is not a central theme. You would almost believe that it was not a central issue in the Johnson presidency.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    As part of both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidential administrations, the author has an insider view of politics, participants, legislation, and agendas. This book positively comments on Johnson’s Great Society program and key legislation that supported Medicare, urban renewal, education, crime prevention, and space exploration. It also notes the Vietnam War and race riots prevalent throughout his presidency. There is an interesting mixture of personal observation, As part of both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidential administrations, the author has an insider view of politics, participants, legislation, and agendas. This book positively comments on Johnson’s Great Society program and key legislation that supported Medicare, urban renewal, education, crime prevention, and space exploration. It also notes the Vietnam War and race riots prevalent throughout his presidency. There is an interesting mixture of personal observation, presidential powers, and politics. Much of the writing seemed superficial as the author moved from one topic to another, never dwelling into personal, emotional, or even social cost Johnson faced as president. The book includes a selection of more well known Great Society laws and source notes for any scholar interested in conducting additional research.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Tarlau

    A long memoir from Califano who was the Senior Advisor to LBJ on domestic affairs. I find it interesting to re-live my formative years (1965-1968) from the view of someone in the Johnson Administration. I was thinking about where I was at the time of the MLK assassination and the 68 Dem Convention and my perspective on this versus LBJ's perspective. Johnson was definitely an complex character who passed a lot of good domestic legislation. Unfortunately his war in Vietnam fundamentally changed A long memoir from Califano who was the Senior Advisor to LBJ on domestic affairs. I find it interesting to re-live my formative years (1965-1968) from the view of someone in the Johnson Administration. I was thinking about where I was at the time of the MLK assassination and the 68 Dem Convention and my perspective on this versus LBJ's perspective. Johnson was definitely an complex character who passed a lot of good domestic legislation. Unfortunately his war in Vietnam fundamentally changed the nature of his Presidency. I felt the book under-played the seriousness of the war and the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who were killed and maimed as the result of these policies. You can't say LBJ was a great President in the light of the tremendous escalation of the war during his administration.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gordon Kwok

    Few people knew LBJ as well as Califano. The book describes the high points and low points of LBJ's time in the White House and what it was like to work for LBJ. One walks away from this book with a greater admiration for LBJ and the astonishing and progressive legacy that he left behind through countless legislative accomplishments...Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing, Medicare, education and the environment. All amazing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lucht

    Lyndon Johnson will forever be remembered for his disastrous Vietnam war policy, but with this book Joe Califano does an excellent job detailing Johnson's extraordinary legislative accomplishments in establishing the Great Society. Johnson's skill at advancing bills puts all other politicians to shame, most particularly the current occupant of the oval office.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Whoknew?

    Written in an anecdotal style by LBJ's right-hand-man on domestic affairs....some great insights into how LBJ drove his White House staff, dealt with Congress, and tried to handle/manipulate the media. Fascinating and inspiring, yet tragic as well. As others have said of Johnson; a flawed giant - but what a political animal and force he was!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jim Ogle

    A great but flawed man. A great story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Highly informative

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Holt

    I loved the new edition where Califano gives new advice to future Presidents.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom Leland

    LBJ was, for the most part, a great president. He suffered from bad timing and a misguided fear of the communist threat in SE Asia.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maximilien Guerrero

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anita

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josuf

  30. 4 out of 5

    Drew

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