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Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House

Review

Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House

The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the last administration under which Americans trusted government to better the domestic condition of the country, but it was also the first since World War II to lose the public conviction due to the Vietnam War and its escalation. In BUILDING THE GREAT SOCIETY, the highs and lows of a consequential presidency are covered, along with the characters who willfully fought for a stronger homeland for all Americans.

Taking over swiftly after the traumatic death of John F. Kennedy, President Johnson was a rugged figure with a big-time agenda --- able to work with Congress to push through drastic changes to the everyday American way of life. Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the desegregation of one-third of all public and private American institutions are among the major accomplishments of his legendary, liberal agenda. Most Americans cannot remember the days before these essential benefits many people still require today, but BUILDING THE GREAT SOCIETY recounts the urgency to institute them during an era when many were left so far behind that they were relegated to the margins of society or completely forgotten.

"[Zeitz] covers Johnson with a contemporary voice and an energetic, historical mind. BUILDING THE GREAT SOCIETY is a keen, readable account of constructing liberal legislation that has effectively endured."

Johnson intervened socially to create a more evenhanded, considerate union, though his goal was severely undermined by increasing tensions overseas and among his military advisors. Ultimately, it was his decision to intervene in the Vietnam conflict that ended an era of progress and created a distrust of government from which public opinion has never recovered. Vast scandal in the resulting Nixon administration furthered the image that government is the problem rather than the answer it had been for many years since FDR. Johnson lost his political support, public trust and approval, and decided it was unwise to run for a second term as the Democratic Party fractured around him. He is remembered for both his substantial domestic accomplishments and his controversial foreign letdowns.

BUILDING THE GREAT SOCIETY is enlightening in how it describes starting Medicare and Medicaid from scratch, building them from the ground up within a year. Other achievements yet to be mentioned are a major increase to federal education aid, broad consumer protections, and the establishment of HUD and the Department of Transportation. The book demonstrates how a powerful, efficient executive with broad political support surrounded by a talented, enthusiastic team can yield considerable results. In the present day, it is difficult to pass a single law, not to mention even a temporary budget. This goes to show how politically skilled and underrated Johnson was as president, with a constant passage of landmark legislation.

Author Joshua Zeitz is a contributing editor at Politico magazine and has written for The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The New York Times. He covers Johnson with a contemporary voice and an energetic, historical mind. BUILDING THE GREAT SOCIETY is a keen, readable account of constructing liberal legislation that has effectively endured. In days when politicians lurch from one crisis to another, it is comforting to read about an era when Johnson, despite some of his failures, was able to simply get the job done.

Reviewed by John Bentlyewski on February 9, 2018

Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House
by Joshua Zeitz

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2018
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 052542878X
  • ISBN-13: 9780525428787