The entire time I was reading this book, I was kind of marching around the house chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”– that is immediately what I think of when I think of LBJ, which kind of had me thinking that he was just this awful guy. What other kind of person kills kids, for goodness sake?
So this book was super shocking for me. I knew that LBJ took over after JFK was assassinated and I can just picture him getting sworn in on Air Force One, looking old and sad beside Jackie O who looks absolutely in shock. I knew that it was this insane time period in American history, but even then, all I associated him with was Vietnam.
Which is unfortunate because for what a disaster that was almost from day one, dude had some serious successes domestically. He was a champion of civil rights and pushed and pushed to get laws passed that promoted voting rights and equal rights. He started Medicare and Head Start and passed a bunch of education laws that made it possible for poor people to get an education. These are all things that I think are mega important and I was shocked and surprised to learn that these were all LBJ initiatives.
But dude was a prick. Literally. He was… ahem… apparently well endowed and named his penis Jumbo and showed it off on the regular. He would even persuade his subordinates to whip theirs out to compare size. TRUE STORY. He would get his aides to come to the bathroom with him and he’d talk to them and make them work while he sat there and took a poop. I CANNOT MAKE THIS UP. He hated the Kennedy clan (especially Bobby, not as as much Teddy, and even super disliked (and some would say planned the murder of) JFK) but did have one huge thing in common with John F Kennedy: he cheated on his wife regularly and she, having daddy issues, stood beside him and just smiled through it.
And then there was Vietnam, which he drug his feet on and then just went in full force. He told his advisors, later, that he ultimately made the decision for purely political reasons: he didn’t want to look weak in comparison to Bobby Kennedy, who was kind of his arch-rival. Crazy, right? And so sad. He was ultimately just a super insecure guy who tried hard but couldn’t stop catering to his ego. Bleh.
As for the biography itself, this was one of the best books I’ve read in the American Presidents series. It was fairly balanced, which is hard to find especially with the more recent presidents. I thought that it was concise without cutting too many corners and didn’t often sink into full-tilt political lingo. I read it quickly and never got bored. Good stuff. Next up, Nixon, who I also think pretty lowly of. We’ll see how that one comes out!