30 review for Lyndon: An Oral Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stefania Dzhanamova

    Merle Miller, the author of several novels and a best-selling biography of Harry Truman, employs his "oral history" method to analyze and tell the story of the life of another American President – President Lyndon B. Johnson. The results are interesting, but questionable.   Miller's study of Johnson does not offer as much for both scholars and lay readers as the other political biographies I have read. A larger-than-life personality like Lyndon Johnson's could make any biography a success, and Mi Merle Miller, the author of several novels and a best-selling biography of Harry Truman, employs his "oral history" method to analyze and tell the story of the life of another American President – President Lyndon B. Johnson. The results are interesting, but questionable.   Miller's study of Johnson does not offer as much for both scholars and lay readers as the other political biographies I have read. A larger-than-life personality like Lyndon Johnson's could make any biography a success, and Miller's book becomes quite fascinating when it manages to showcase Johnson's exuberant character. However, the "oral history" method is more of a problem than a helpful tool. This self-proclaimed "new way of dealing with the men and women and the events of the recent past" in reality comprises nothing more than stringing together over five hundred pages of reminiscences, quotes, and speeches by and about Johnson.  Miller credits Professor Allan Nevins of Columbia University with the development of this method, but I think that Professor Nevins might have had something better organized and more effective in mind when he suggested that taped interviews would be a "valuable addition to the historical record." In other words, while it is true that the modern historian has to make use of recordings and interviews if they are available, history is much more than a resume of the information contained in them. Miller, though, has put together the interesting facts he has gathered with a sloppy and unimpressive narrative of Johnson's political career, which, having been long and eventful, deserves a better retelling.  Furthermore, because most of the account is based solely on verbal testimony, with few references here and there, Miller's work can hardly be considered serious historical scholarship at all. It is just a series of anecdotes and personal accounts of conversation with and about the President. To give him justice, though, it does provide an exciting glimpse at the enormously complex politician Johnson was.  Lyndon Johnson could bully, cajole, and manipulate as well as any political figure in Washington politics. Miller's oral history is particularly revealing in showing Johnson at work. He clearly was at his best in the Senate – bargaining, dealing, and always perceptive of his strengths and weaknesses in his role as leader of his party. Because Miller focuses on personality, he is especially successful in presenting a portrait of Johnson in the vice presidency where his enormous ego obviously suffered greatly. Also, the personal accounts of the Kennedy assassination and Johnson's response are quite moving. One disappointment is Miller's handling of the Johnson ventures into the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. Much that has been written about Johnson has revolved around presidential personality. I expected more insight into the connection between Johnson's grandiose self-perception and his military struggles, yet the important question whether the President's response to those situations was a reflection of his personality remains unanswered.  Johnson was in the whirl of Washington political power for three decades, from his arrival in the House of Representatives in 1937 as an ardent supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to his emergence in the 1950s as the skillful leader of his party in the Senate, to his sudden, dramatic rise to the presidency. One would expect to learn more about the politics of the era in a biography of such an eminent figure. Johnson was involved in the battle for civil rights legislation, the condemnation of Joe McCarthy, and the escalation of the American involvement in Vietnam, but little beyond Johnson himself shines in this biography. There is none of the breadth and insight into American politics that I expected. Oral history seems to be appropriate for a casual discussion of Johnson's character, but not for capturing the politics of his era.  The good thing about Miller's work is his portrait of Lyndon Johnson the man. Miller does not shy away from the influence the personal relations of the interviewees have on their accounts. Even Johnson's notoriously crude manners are treated as a sign that he was "natural" and "uninhibited", not vulgar. LYNDON is an entertaining but mediocre read. Despite the compelling portrait of the President he paints, Miller contributes little new to the understanding of the political controversies Johnson created during his presidency. This book is more suitable for a general than for a scholarly audience, and it probably would not have been less informative had Miller chosen not to include a single word of his own, chronicling only the testimonies instead. 

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    In spite of peppering the book with his own, oftentimes unsubstantiated, opinions, Merle Miller has put together an enjoyable oral biography of Lyndon Johnson. Given the format of the book, it relies almost exclusively on the reminiscences of those who knew Johnson either through bloodline, geographic proximity, working for him, or working with him over his long political career. Miller mainly goes chronologically through Johnson's life, only branching off here and there for specific topics unti In spite of peppering the book with his own, oftentimes unsubstantiated, opinions, Merle Miller has put together an enjoyable oral biography of Lyndon Johnson. Given the format of the book, it relies almost exclusively on the reminiscences of those who knew Johnson either through bloodline, geographic proximity, working for him, or working with him over his long political career. Miller mainly goes chronologically through Johnson's life, only branching off here and there for specific topics until her gets to Johnson's presidency. At that point, he goes more less topically, although still with a chronological bent to arc of the story. Johnson's was a larger-than-life personality, and the man had so much energy and so many frying pans in the fire all at once, that his life is immensely interesting. Unlike his successor, Richard Nixon - who was mainly dark, Johnson was equal parts dark and light. The man had the highest highs and could get down into the lowest lows. This helps to make the recollections of the people that knew him to be all the more colorful. The reader learns a great many details about Johnson - his eating habits, private conversations, even - unfortunately - some of his bathroom habits. That is the strength of this book: reading often unvarnished accounts of the time that people spent with Johnson. Miller is particularly good at including people who knew Johnson before he was famous. There are many oral histories from family members and childhood friends and acquaintances, really helping to paint a portrait of the time and place where Johnson grew up and how the Hill Country of Central Texas shaped him. This continues when Johnson first moves to Washington, D.C. in 1931 and later runs for Congress and is elected. Miller gets in his own way with flippant, unnecessary comments about people and things. An example: on page 355 he notes that Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, who succeeded LBJ as Majority Leader, was not an assertive person and that he smoked a pipe. Miller then adds that people who smoke pipes are often not assertive. What, exactly, does that mean? Is that remotely true? And if so, how would you go about proving such a thing? I realize this is not a big deal. It is annoying, however, to keep running into observations such as that, containing pretty much no factual basis. They detract from the biography that Miller has tried to piece together. The other, bigger, concern that I have with the book is that Miller superficially skims over certain parts of Johnson's life. Take the year 1968, for example. This was a pivotal and chaotic year in American history. While Miller does provide good coverage of Johnson's agonizing decision not to run for reelection in a speech announced on March 31, 1968, he blandly covers the rest of the year. All of the momentous events that occurred, the assassinations, Tet, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Richard Nixon returning to prominence, the election, are all treated in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Perhaps some people were reluctant to speak out about the events that occurred. This was written in 1980 so many of the people involved were still alive. At any rate, if you have an interest in Johnson, this book is an interesting read. While certainly not the most current biography of LBJ, it has the advantage of direct quotes from people who knew him. And, unlike Miller's oral biography of Harry Truman, he wasn't accused of embellishing or making up things on this one. Grade: C+

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tom Rowe

    A very favorable view of Lyndon Johnson, one of the most interesting people to ever be president. I like the oral history approach.

  4. 5 out of 5

    JwW White

    A great biography told primarily through the words of those who knew LBJ best--his associates, friends, and family. Very enjoyable read that provides new insights into this complex figure.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Well done oral history-based biography of LBJ. Robert Caro goes into a great deal more depth, and Doris Kearns offers a more intimate portrait, but if what you want is an overview of LBJ's career, this is a good place to start. Well done oral history-based biography of LBJ. Robert Caro goes into a great deal more depth, and Doris Kearns offers a more intimate portrait, but if what you want is an overview of LBJ's career, this is a good place to start.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Potter

    Decent book Not in a writing style I enjoy but a decent book overall. Lots of information on Lyndon's background and influences. Decent book Not in a writing style I enjoy but a decent book overall. Lots of information on Lyndon's background and influences.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    My wife found this in a pile of free books at a rummage sale. She knows my love of the work of Robert A. Caro especially his 4 part opus to LBJ. Hopefully the 5th and probably final edition of the Caro series comes out soon.But... There are some people who just will not read 4 books of 1000 pages each about 1 person. This book by Merle Miller is perfect for those who want to learn more about the man from people who knew him.It is a thorough review of the man's life. Of course the part of the book My wife found this in a pile of free books at a rummage sale. She knows my love of the work of Robert A. Caro especially his 4 part opus to LBJ. Hopefully the 5th and probably final edition of the Caro series comes out soon.But... There are some people who just will not read 4 books of 1000 pages each about 1 person. This book by Merle Miller is perfect for those who want to learn more about the man from people who knew him.It is a thorough review of the man's life. Of course the part of the book that covers November 22, 1963 is the most dramatic and even though I've read accounts of his being sworn in and coming home to DC now as president in plenty of books,this retelling is excellent. I also like the last few chapters after he chose not to run until his death in 1973. He was not well for most of those years but still was the king of his ranch.Speeding around in his big Cadillacs while wishing he could have got us out of Vietnam amongst other issues.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I picked this up at a used book sale, thinking, "Heck, I don't know much about LBJ so maybe I'll look at it and learn something." Since I was born in the 1960s, all I remember first-hand is protesters blaming him for the Vietnam War, whereas I always had a pretty clear picture of who Kennedy and Nixon were. This book filled in a lot of historical gaps for me and was a well-rounded portrait of a surprisingly interesting man, showing the good, the bad, and everything in between. Didn't expect to f I picked this up at a used book sale, thinking, "Heck, I don't know much about LBJ so maybe I'll look at it and learn something." Since I was born in the 1960s, all I remember first-hand is protesters blaming him for the Vietnam War, whereas I always had a pretty clear picture of who Kennedy and Nixon were. This book filled in a lot of historical gaps for me and was a well-rounded portrait of a surprisingly interesting man, showing the good, the bad, and everything in between. Didn't expect to find this as fascinating as I did, but I found it hard to put down.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marie Freeze

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hugh Heinsohn

  11. 5 out of 5

    Roger

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erich Wendt

  13. 5 out of 5

    Janet Dickson

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Shoulders

  15. 5 out of 5

    A.J. Conte

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mike McGhan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alvin Vaughn

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brian Lee

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Middleton

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laurie L Enyart

  21. 5 out of 5

    Frank

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan O

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris Ashmore

  24. 5 out of 5

    John Mace

  25. 5 out of 5

    Molly Lane

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gail C.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Exapno Mapcase

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda G.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Richard Ross

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dan Eggleston

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