Some of It Was Fun: Working Woth Rfk And Lbj Hardcover – Oct 14 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Katzenbach is perhaps most famous for his role in 1962–1963, as deputy attorney general under Robert F. Kennedy, confronting Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and Alabama governor George Wallace when each was forced to racially integrate their state universities. In this fascinating memoir, Katzenbach gives an invaluable insider's view of life in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, in the latter of which he was attorney general and undersecretary of state. Katzenbach is uniquely positioned to throw light on the personal and political animosities between Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson: an uncomfortable Katzenbach was often forced to become an emissary between the two. At one private White House meeting, Katzenbach has Johnson accusing the antiwar Senator Kennedy of prolonging the war, causing more American deaths: You have blood on your hands, Johnson shouted. I had never seen [Johnson] like this, Katzenbach writes, almost totally out of control.... 'I don't have to listen to this, I'm leaving,' Kennedy retorted. Such tales as this, never before told, are more than worth the price of admission. Illus. (Oct.)
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About the Author
Nicholas deB Katzenbach (1922 - 2012) taught law at Yale University and the University of Chicago, and served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, before becoming senior vice president and general counsel for IBM.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
After DOJ, thanks to LBJ, Katzenbach became Under Secretary of State (1966-1969). Much as is true with the Kennedys, Katzenbach intimate portrait of LBJ is invaluable, admiring but tempered with some stringent judgments on Johnson. Given his State Dept. position, he was involved in much higher level policy making than at Justice. He recounts important developments in the Vietnam War policy, African diplomacy, and affords us an unique insight into how these important decisions were made (including the role of the so-called "Wise Men" such as Dean Acheson who served as advisors to LBJ). While this material is interesting, clearly I believe Katzenbach saw his center of gravity in government service as occurring during his DOJ years--at least I hope he does.
This is not meant to be a "scholarly" treatment--there are no footnotes, or bibliography, though the author is not shy about reminding us that he was a Rhodes Scholar, is a Princeton graduate, attended Yale Law School, and taught and wrote at Chicago Law. Rather, it is a relaxed and extremenly thoughtful recollection of the author's government service during the 1960's--tempered with the passage of 40 years. Katzenback is full of judicious opinions and perceptive insights, and focuses upon the events and personalities rather than himself, which is refreshing in a Washingtion memoir. I am very glad that he chose to record his recollections, and so should anyone else who has an interest in this country during the 1960's.
Mr. Katzenbach, who is very bright, liberal, and calm, reflects back, in a style easy to read, on his own career a the center of some of the central issues of a turbulent time--such as passage of the Voting Rights Act, Vietnam, and the discord between Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The author is especially good at explaining the widely divergent leadership styles of RFK and LBJ.
This book does not pretend to be a complete history, but is instead the focused memoirs of a now older man who once was entrusted with top positions at Justice and State during a transformational time in our nation's history.
I think Mr. Katsenbach deserves the renewed gratitude of the nation for his quiet leadership and bravery during his entire career in government, but especially for the dangerous spent days upholding the rule of law when helping to ensure voting rights in the South and the racial integration of such higher educational institutions as the University of Alabama.
Author: Nicholas Katzenbach
Tags: politics, government, rfk, lbj, civil rights, vietnam
Well, actually, all of it was fun... reading the book, that is. Katzenbach served in the administrations of both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He participated in some of the most exciting events of those administrations, including efforts to increase civil rights for African Americans and in debates about Vietnam. He knew well Bobby Kennedy and Johnson, JFK less well, and his observations of these leaders and others of lesser rank are fascinating.
Katzenback began in the Office of Legal Counsel and then became deputy Attorney General under Bobby, then Attorney General when Bobby left the Johnson administration, then undersecretary of State.
He was often involved in civil rights issues while in the Department of Justice, including being on the ground for the integrations of the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama. He was also involved in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act which changed the face of America. His perspective on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' efforts in civil rights is invaluable. Civil rights leaders were doubtful at times of the federal government's commitment in this area, but Katzenbach points out that the South was a caste system, that local law enforcement was almost completely opposed to black civil rights, and that the government's powers were limited. It simply wasn't practical to mobilize the National Guard or to send in military troops to desegregate schools and public accommodations district by district. What they did do was enforce desegregation in selected instances so that they could threaten to do so somewhere else with credibility. Still, it took the Voting Rights Act to get blacks into office, which really broke the back of segregation. The passing of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act are both thrilling stories, and depended on an amazing amount of prep work and floor management. JFK was assassinated before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which slowed things down to some degree as it took time for Bobby to regain his zest for action.
Katzenback became Attorney General after Bobby left for the Senate He grew kind of bored, frankly, as the excitement of earlier days waned. When the undersecretary of State position opened, he asked for it and got it, despite the fact it was in title and pay grade a demotion. As undersecretary of State he was involved in many interdepartmental meetings about Vietnam with high-powered players from Defense, State, and other government agencies. Consistently the only person with any optimism about Vietnam was Walt Rostow, the national security advisor. The others for various reasons were doubtful that the war could win, in the sense of a survivable South Vietnamese state. But the North Vietnamese knew that time was on their side and were not interested in substantive negotiations, and LBJ did not feel he could unilaterally pull out. Katzenbach believes that in part Johnson' passion was for domestic politics, and he was not as interested in or as knowledgeable about foreign policy. Johnson could see that the war was destroying the Great Society that he had worked so hard for, but couldn't see a way out.
Katzenbach speaks well of almost everyone, but he is fairly realistic in his assessments. His picture of Bobby Kennedy increases one's sense of the tragedy of his loss, and confirms why people thought of the Kennedy administration as Camelot. It was full of the young, the energetic, the innovative, the bright, the open to hearing ideas from a broad range of people, and led by a President who was all of these things. He took great pleasure in working with Bobby, but learned to get along with Johnson. He doubted Johnson's motives at first, but came to recognize LBJ's passion for the Great Society programs and his unfailing political instincts, which he has never seen surpassed.
Sprinkled throughout the books are wise assessments of the ability of governments to affect issues, real lessons in politics as the art of the possible.
Fascinating and amazingly readable book.
Publication W.W. Norton & Co. (2008), Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0393067254 / 9780393067255
I was sorely tempted to put this book down after about fifty pages. Katzenbach is a dry writer who writes in a scholarly style and it takes some time to get used to it. I'm glad I persevered because the book is truly interesting and a real insight into the politics and personnel of the sixties.
The author owed his original tenure in government to Bobby Kennedy whom he has an obviously deep affection for, - everyone's opinion was welcome - although he does not present the stricken Senator as a saint. Interestingly while RFK and Lyndon Johnson were arch-enemies, Katzenbach takes a balanced view of Johnson highlighting his great strengths and his great flaws.
Katzenbach writes well about two vastly different personalities. Bobby Kennedy was direct and candid which did not apply to the more political Johnson. Kennedy did not trust Johnson on civil rights, something where he was proved wrong.
Some interesting insights:
* Bobby Kennedy considered cabinet meetings a waste of time as all key decisions were made outside of the cabinet room.
* When discussing great Presidents, JFK rather poignantly said, "It looks to me like you have to die in office to be classified as great by historians."
* During the furor over James Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi, Katzenbach stayed in contact with the White House via a pay phone which they kept open all night. The White House paid - collect!
* Much of the decision making on the Vietnam War in the author's opinion was based on the fear of domestic political consequences and not national security. I'm sure many families who lost loved ones during that terrible war would love to know that.
I do have one quibble of fact. Katzenbach perpetuates the myth that the Illinois vote in 1960 decided the presidential election. Even had Kennedy lost Illinois, he still would have had sufficient Electoral College votes. A surprising misstep from a very lucid writer.
For anyone interested in the politics of civil rights, the sixties and Vietnam, this is one good read
The book spills no secrets, though it does offer some insights on Vietnam issues from a semi-major "player" in LBJ's last two years in office in this area. That alone makes it a good read.
Second is its insight on Kennedy and Johnson years civil rights fights.
That said, the book probably could have been deeper; that's why it doesn't get a fifth star.
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