Saturday, April 28, 2012

A book I'll probably never read, but should

When I was in college we spent time in a methods class talking about Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson entitled Rise to Power.  The professor used it as an example of meticulous research.  At that point in my learning, I wasn't necessarily a fan of Lyndon Johnson, and I was already reading a lot for my classes, so I passed on reading it. 

I guess the fourth of five books has been released now.  And it's getting a lot of positive press.  George Will writes in today's Washington Post about it.  Will offers an interesting vindication for political history: "Caro . . . is also a valuable anachronism, a historian who rejects the academic penchant for history 'with the politics left out.' These historians consider it elitist and anti-democratic to focus on event-making individuals; they deny that a preeminent few have disproportionate impact on the destinies of the many; they present political events as 'epiphenomena,' reflections of social 'structures' and results of impersonal forces. Caro’s event-making Johnson is a very personal force." 

I don't know if I would have voted for Lyndon Johnson had I been of age in 1964.  I still don't know how truthful it is to call him a great or even good president.  His is a difficult presidency to distill into one clear judgment.  However, his five years and two months in office are some of the most intriguing to study and some of the most meaningful to teach.  I've come to admire his leadership though I don't necessarily think it was always marked by wisdom. 

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