Johnson has fared a little better than Nixon viz. the results of such executive record keeping. In the case of excerpts chosen by Michael Beschluss for these tapes (and as the review title suggests, do by the audio version), there is no criminal activity uncovered. Instead, we hear things as diverse as conversations with Martin Luther King about the Civil Rights Act, arm-twisting of Southern Democrats to get that and other progressive laws passed, chilly exchanges between the President and Attorney General Robert Kennedy after President Kennedy's death, and a hilarious exchange with a flabbergasted New York tailor as Johnson asks the tailor to make trousers for him, describing exactly how they should fit around the Presidential....er, anatomy. Of course, there are heartfelt conversations with both Jacqueline and Rose Kennedy immediately after President Kennedy's death. In one very sweet exchange, Jackie refers to media criticism of his calling her "honey" as they flew with the president's body from Dallas to Washington. Kennedy insisted she felt positive about the term of endearment."Honey is loving word, a wonderful word," she tells him.
The 35th President comes across with a multifaceted personality: the dogged politician who won't take no for an answer (and won't forget a favor given); the Texas rancher who doesn't believe in coddling his dogs; the old fashioned Southern gentleman who addressed female officials with charm and not a little flirtation.Read more ›
The period of time covered by these tapes included great legislative victories for LBJ, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act (one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation ever enacted by Congress), but for those still concerned with the less-than-salutary effects of the "Best And The Brightest" scenario upon the American polity this will be a revelatory document indeed. At the start of the "Great Society", one of US politics' famed control freaks demonstrates practically no "steering" ability with respect to the direction of discourse concerning matters of federal moment: suggesting that this period was not quite as told on all levels, like many other administrations studied more intensively in terms of their ramifications for ordinary life. Currently the first of two volumes devoted to such material, and a must for any serious student of political power.
It is also interesting to read his conversations with folks on a personal basis. The chitchat is quite helpful in seeing Johnson as a person. His private opinions of the Warren Commission and of Oswald's role in the assassination are also fascinating.
Mr. Beschloss also supplies helpful footnotes to provide context and clarify so of the statements that would otherwise be opaque. There is also an appendix telling us why we have access to the tapes now rather than in 2023 or later as was Johnson's intention (short answer: Oliver Stone's film "JFK" led congress to open up virtually all records on the assassination to help quell the paranoia of conspiracy theorists). There is also a list of the people included in the book with a line about who they are and their birth and death dates. There is also an appendix including a few conversations specifically on the Warren Commission Report.
I bought my copy as a first edition with the attached audiotape of a few selections. It would be nice to get these tapes in a complete version on DVD.
What made the book really work was the great editing and very helpful lead comments and footnotes by the author. I was somewhat concerned that I would get lost in the less then precise conversations between familiar people, but the footnotes add all the clarity one would need to understand who is speaking and about what. I also found it very interesting to see LBJ working the phones; he does everything from out right [bottom] kissing to demanding. All of it is surrounded by his down home Texas language that seams to bring the office of the President a little closer to home.
For the general political reader like myself there were a few slow spots in the book, talking about minor political scandals of the day was not interesting to me, but overall these are few and do not take away from the overall book. I would not suggest this to be your first book on LBJ or the politics around the Vietnam War, but if you are interested in the topics you will not be disappointed.