By the time he suddenly succeeded to the presidency in November 1963, following John Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson had been secretly recording his private conversations for years--first by having an eavesdropping aide take shorthand notes on telephone calls, and then, as recording technology advanced, by committing conversations to tape. Even on his first night as president, he remembered to make sure that the tape recorder was working. His motives were apparently practical--a kind of hands-free note-taking, and a way to document the commitments he and others had made.
Whatever his reasons (and despite Johnson's desire that the documentation remain sealed until at least 2023), the tapes are a boon to students of politics and history. Masterfully edited and annotated by presidential historian Michael Beschloss, they reveal a quintessential political animal at work. It's fascinating to listen in as Johnson works the levers--cajoling, trading favors, calling in chits, twisting arms, and occasionally playing rough--often in a pungent, earthy Texas patois. The book covers the period from November 1963 through the Democratic convention in August 1964, when Johnson was nominated for reelection. Its biggest single revelation is that Johnson believed Fidel Castro was behind Kennedy's assassination; another, less sensational, is that his reservations about the deepening war in Vietnam were greater than previously known. Most importantly, though, these tapes provide an invaluable, uncensored look into a complex presidency--and president.
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Alan Brinkley The New York Times Book Review [Taking Charge]
gives us an incomparable picture of the character and style of one of the most remarkable personalities ever to inhabit the Presidency.
Albert R. Hunt The Wall Street Journal When it comes to sheer marvelous history, Taking Charge
is unbeatable. Anybody who cares about presidential elections or about American history -- or who simply wants to have fun -- should read these Johnson tapes.
Michiko Kakutani The New York Times Compelling...as expertly selected, edited, and footnoted by Beschloss, the conversations form a fascinating record of the first nine months of Johnson's administration, providing new insights into his character and a revealing look at the day-to-day workings of his presidency and the crucial decisions he would make on Vietnam and civil rights.
Richard Barnet The Washington Post Book World A fascinating portrait of an imposing, manipulative, driven, conflicted, and surprisingly vulnerable character whose political ambitions had suddenly been achieved under frightening circumstances.
Steve Neal Chicago Sun Times An extraordinary study of one of the more extraordinary characters in American history. Johnson the man is brought vividly to life in Taking Charge.
Hugh Brogan The Spectator No one seriously or frivolously interested in American history and politics should leave this book unread....A stupendous, unstudied self-portrait....If [later volumes of The Johnson White House Tapes
] are the equals of this one for insight into the very heart of high politics, then a classic is in the making.