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A majestic big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it, from Lyndon Johnson and members of Congress to the civil rights movement and the media Between November 1963, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American political histor A majestic big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it, from Lyndon Johnson and members of Congress to the civil rights movement and the media Between November 1963, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American political history since the New Deal, one whose ambition and achievement have had no parallel since. In just three years, Johnson drove the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts; the War on Poverty program; Medicare and Medicaid; the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities; Public Broadcasting; immigration liberalization; a raft of consumer and environmental protection acts; and major federal investments in public transportation. Collectively, this group of achievements was labeled by Johnson and his team the “Great Society.” In The Fierce Urgency of Now, Julian E. Zelizer takes the full measure of the entire story in all its epic sweep. Before Johnson, Kennedy tried and failed to achieve many of these advances. Our practiced understanding is that this was an unprecedented “liberal hour” in America, a moment, after Kennedy’s death, when the seas parted and Johnson could simply stroll through to victory. As Zelizer shows, this view is off-base: In many respects America was even more conservative than it seems now, and Johnson’s legislative program faced bitter resistance. The Fierce Urgency of Now animates the full spectrum of forces at play during these turbulent years, including religious groups, the media, conservative and liberal political action groups, unions, and civil rights activists. Above all, the great character in the book whose role rivals Johnson’s is Congress—indeed, Zelizer argues that our understanding of the Great Society program is too Johnson-centric. He discusses why Congress was so receptive to passing these ideas in a remarkably short span of time and how the election of 1964 and burgeoning civil rights movement transformed conditions on Capitol Hill. Zelizer brings a deep, intimate knowledge of the institution to bear on his story: The book is a master class in American political grand strategy. Finally, Zelizer reckons with the legacy of the Great Society. Though our politics have changed, the heart of the Great Society legislation remains intact fifty years later. In fact, he argues, the Great Society shifted the American political center of gravity—and our social landscape—decisively to the left in many crucial respects. In a very real sense, we are living today in the country that Johnson and his Congress made.


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A majestic big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it, from Lyndon Johnson and members of Congress to the civil rights movement and the media Between November 1963, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American political histor A majestic big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it, from Lyndon Johnson and members of Congress to the civil rights movement and the media Between November 1963, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American political history since the New Deal, one whose ambition and achievement have had no parallel since. In just three years, Johnson drove the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts; the War on Poverty program; Medicare and Medicaid; the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities; Public Broadcasting; immigration liberalization; a raft of consumer and environmental protection acts; and major federal investments in public transportation. Collectively, this group of achievements was labeled by Johnson and his team the “Great Society.” In The Fierce Urgency of Now, Julian E. Zelizer takes the full measure of the entire story in all its epic sweep. Before Johnson, Kennedy tried and failed to achieve many of these advances. Our practiced understanding is that this was an unprecedented “liberal hour” in America, a moment, after Kennedy’s death, when the seas parted and Johnson could simply stroll through to victory. As Zelizer shows, this view is off-base: In many respects America was even more conservative than it seems now, and Johnson’s legislative program faced bitter resistance. The Fierce Urgency of Now animates the full spectrum of forces at play during these turbulent years, including religious groups, the media, conservative and liberal political action groups, unions, and civil rights activists. Above all, the great character in the book whose role rivals Johnson’s is Congress—indeed, Zelizer argues that our understanding of the Great Society program is too Johnson-centric. He discusses why Congress was so receptive to passing these ideas in a remarkably short span of time and how the election of 1964 and burgeoning civil rights movement transformed conditions on Capitol Hill. Zelizer brings a deep, intimate knowledge of the institution to bear on his story: The book is a master class in American political grand strategy. Finally, Zelizer reckons with the legacy of the Great Society. Though our politics have changed, the heart of the Great Society legislation remains intact fifty years later. In fact, he argues, the Great Society shifted the American political center of gravity—and our social landscape—decisively to the left in many crucial respects. In a very real sense, we are living today in the country that Johnson and his Congress made.

30 review for The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Craig

    When looking at civil rights and Great Society legislation, historian Julian Zelizer turns away from the usual tale about LBJ's legislative prowess to examine these legislative victories in a wider and important context, specifically looking at Congress. LBJ ushered in a landslide victory, so with this and the conditions from the grass-roots, it was a good time to get big legislation passed. However, the conservative coalition slammed the door on LBJ. The president had a two-year window, and by 1 When looking at civil rights and Great Society legislation, historian Julian Zelizer turns away from the usual tale about LBJ's legislative prowess to examine these legislative victories in a wider and important context, specifically looking at Congress. LBJ ushered in a landslide victory, so with this and the conditions from the grass-roots, it was a good time to get big legislation passed. However, the conservative coalition slammed the door on LBJ. The president had a two-year window, and by 1966, with Vietnam, white backlash, and rioting, liberals were on the defensive and no major legislation was passed. The book revises the standard accounts in a good way. This is a fascinating account and highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Honestly, this was more of a broad history of the Johnson era as opposed to a specific account of the great society (which is what I was hoping to read). As a history, there isn't really anything new here. If you've read Caro's Johnson series (which you should go and do right now if you have not) or Civil Rights history, this book is pretty repetitive. Honestly, this was more of a broad history of the Johnson era as opposed to a specific account of the great society (which is what I was hoping to read). As a history, there isn't really anything new here. If you've read Caro's Johnson series (which you should go and do right now if you have not) or Civil Rights history, this book is pretty repetitive.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robb Bridson

    Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher at no cost, as part of Goodreads' first reads program. This is one of those great works of historical nonfiction that will both help you better understand how our political system works (or doesn't) and develop fresh new views on history. Far from being just another presidential biopic, this comprehensive tale of LBJ's era answers the questions of how such a great progressive moment was possible and how it endured even as the typical conservatism Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher at no cost, as part of Goodreads' first reads program. This is one of those great works of historical nonfiction that will both help you better understand how our political system works (or doesn't) and develop fresh new views on history. Far from being just another presidential biopic, this comprehensive tale of LBJ's era answers the questions of how such a great progressive moment was possible and how it endured even as the typical conservatism and legislative dysfunction came back. Yes, LBJ was a great political strategist and a passionate fighter for liberal goals, but that isn't the whole story. He was certainly a requirement for the success of his presidency but not in and of himself sufficient. Various other strategists in congress, civil rights leaders, and the power of a liberal moment in the population all made the Great Society possible... and even made it hard to fight against. There is a lot of amazing description of political battles and shifting alliances. Overall the story emphasizes to me just how screwed up our system is... but at the sane time it shows how when the right moment comes, good changes are possible... and reactionary forces don't have such an easy time rolling them back.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alesha

    What a great book for anyone interested in history, presidents, Lyndon B Johnson, anything surrounding the presidency of Mr Johnson. I found this book to be entertaining, with information that I did not know. I do not like spoilers, so pick up this book and see what you think.

  5. 4 out of 5

    yoav

    A comprehensive historical study, written in a relatively accessible way, about the period of Lyndon Johnson in the White House, who took office after Kennedy's assassination and after two years of work, was elected by a huge majority to the presidency and swept Congress and the Senate into a huge liberal revolution (after years that Congress was ruled by a Coalition of conservatives). In less than six years he initiated the enactment of the civil rights act, which effectively abolished racial s A comprehensive historical study, written in a relatively accessible way, about the period of Lyndon Johnson in the White House, who took office after Kennedy's assassination and after two years of work, was elected by a huge majority to the presidency and swept Congress and the Senate into a huge liberal revolution (after years that Congress was ruled by a Coalition of conservatives). In less than six years he initiated the enactment of the civil rights act, which effectively abolished racial segregation, particularly in the workplace (and the way it was done by chance, also anchored women's rights to equality in the law); Prevent discrimination in voting; brought hundreds of federal laws and programs on social issues, the most important being Medicare, which regulated federal health insurance for the elderly and disabled; And initiated a comprehensive plan to combat poverty. The book describes how Johnson's attempt to stay politically hawkish and continue the war in Vietnam increased the loss of left wing and young supporters and caused an economic spiral. On the other hand, continuing black riots in the north and east led to the loss of support for the liberal center-right, and ultimately led to his decision not to run again despite his amazing achievements. Despite strong opposition to the plans of Johnson when they were presented - especially desegregation and Medicare - the were assimilated into the American way of life and the Republican presidents who followed (some objected to his policies), expand and deepened them. This is a comprehensive book (sometimes exhausting due to tendency to go into the details of the work of Congress) that paints an impressive and coherent picture.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Somebody someday will write a book comparing the first two years of Barack Obama's first term with the same period of Lyndon Johnson's first term. In reading "The Fierce Urgency of Now" — Julian Zelizer's breezy if not perfunctory overview of the passage of the Great Society legislation of 1964-66 — the comparison practically leaps out unbidden. A Democratic president, taking office in the middle of a national crisis and given enormous liberal majorities in both houses of Congress, seeks to stim Somebody someday will write a book comparing the first two years of Barack Obama's first term with the same period of Lyndon Johnson's first term. In reading "The Fierce Urgency of Now" — Julian Zelizer's breezy if not perfunctory overview of the passage of the Great Society legislation of 1964-66 — the comparison practically leaps out unbidden. A Democratic president, taking office in the middle of a national crisis and given enormous liberal majorities in both houses of Congress, seeks to stimulate the economy and remakes the nation's social welfare programs before losing momentum and taking fire from both the right and the left. Obama was not as proficient at getting his agenda through Congress as Johnson was — but Johnson had bigger majorities to work with and a less partisan atmosphere. Zelizer's argument is that Johnson (and, though left unspoken, the implication extends to all modern presidents) had less agency in getting his priorities through Congress than he's often credited with. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were ideas whose time came thanks in large part to the provocations of marchers in the Deep South and the virulent racists who rose to take the bait; the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid would have been impossible if not for the landslide election of 1964 that left Republicans scrambling to avoid looking anything like Barry Goldwater. Johnson did, however, work his negotiation magic to pass a key tax cut and education funding bill before that election. Zelizer also takes care to reflect on what happened after the Great Society was enacted: the race riots, the campus antiwar protests, the sudden rise of law and order as a primary concern among voters. The result was a conservative resurgence in the 1966 midterm elections, followed by the turbulent election of 1968, fought on left-leaning grounds seemingly unthinkable today. Despite Johnson's tremendous unpopularity by the time he left office, his successor, Richard Nixon, actually expanded the Great Society, and its existence is rarely threatened, even in today's Tea Party-infused environment. Johnson's domestic legacy has required 50 years to get out of the shadow of Vietnam; one wonders if in 50 years, historians will be toasting Obama's own accomplishments in similar ways.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul Wilson

    Interesting, though factually spurious, book on the Great Society's journey from Kennedy's failed domestic agenda to LBJ's Great Society successes of 1964-1965. The author reinforces the frustrating notion that Kennedy was a moderate/closet conservative, when in reality he had one of the most liberal voting records of any senator during his tenure. The failure to initiate Medicare and other poverty programs was due more to the more conservative congress in his tenure, which became much more libe Interesting, though factually spurious, book on the Great Society's journey from Kennedy's failed domestic agenda to LBJ's Great Society successes of 1964-1965. The author reinforces the frustrating notion that Kennedy was a moderate/closet conservative, when in reality he had one of the most liberal voting records of any senator during his tenure. The failure to initiate Medicare and other poverty programs was due more to the more conservative congress in his tenure, which became much more liberal after the 1964 landslide. The book is, however, a great insight into the 1960s congress, which many books on this era tend to overlook. Zelizer clarifies that the LBJ "treatment" is overrated in terms of his legislative success, whereas the overall more liberal makeup of congress facilitated Great Society successes. The height of New Deal liberalism was ultimately undone by the "white backlash" against black riots more than the Vietnam War. The New Deal coalition was inevitably going to fall (blacks and white southerners were never going to stay in the same political party), but the growing pains that resulted from civil rights was the final death knell for that coalition and American liberalism in general. Great read for political history nerds.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway. Excellent book...... proficiently researched, extremely detailed and well composed. Having read other books such as The Roosevelts An American Saga by Peter Collier, Supreme Power by Jeff Shesol, and The Memoirs of Richard Nixon helped provide a foundation for some of the lesser details within this book. Having an understanding of FDR's New Deal and knowing President Johnson was a disciple of FDR's philosophies who jumped on Roosevelt's bandwagon, I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway. Excellent book...... proficiently researched, extremely detailed and well composed. Having read other books such as The Roosevelts An American Saga by Peter Collier, Supreme Power by Jeff Shesol, and The Memoirs of Richard Nixon helped provide a foundation for some of the lesser details within this book. Having an understanding of FDR's New Deal and knowing President Johnson was a disciple of FDR's philosophies who jumped on Roosevelt's bandwagon, this book provides further insight to put this era into perspective. As a former participant in the political arena, some of the tactics outlined here have greater merit to me. Some academia and minorities continue to focus credit to President Kennedy for civil rights achievements actually orchestrated by President Johnson. Definitely recommend Julian Zelizer’s book, especially for a political science major.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Useful book on the Great Society, with a particular emphasis on civil rights legislation. Zelizer is interested in the mechanics of legislation: he focuses intensely on Congressional committees--like the Rules Committee, Ways and Means, etc.--and how they can hinder or assist presidential priorities. This sort of focus leads one *away* from an emphasis on the particular personality of Lyndon Johnson and *towards* a focus on the institutional prerogatives and biases of the Congress. This is a wel Useful book on the Great Society, with a particular emphasis on civil rights legislation. Zelizer is interested in the mechanics of legislation: he focuses intensely on Congressional committees--like the Rules Committee, Ways and Means, etc.--and how they can hinder or assist presidential priorities. This sort of focus leads one *away* from an emphasis on the particular personality of Lyndon Johnson and *towards* a focus on the institutional prerogatives and biases of the Congress. This is a welcome and important change. The *other* thing that's very good about this book is that it assigns "blame" for the Great Society to Barry Goldwater. Goldwater's negative coattails gave LBJ the majority he needed to pass the legislation he wanted, but in the face of a more competitive opponent, he never would have earned those majorities. This follows from the focus on the Congress itself. Only four stars b/c Zelizer's tone is vaguely hagiographical about Medicare and Medicaid, even though both programs were designed with unrealistic assumptions about cost.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Morgan

    'The Fierce Urgency of Now' is deeply impressive from the standpoint both of the scholar and of the general reader. The book puts into action what Zelizer calls the 'new political history,' which attempts to rebut the 'liberal presidential synthesis of the mid-twentieth century by demonstrating that political institutions - such as Congress - and social movements - such as the civil rights movement - not just individual presidents, have an impact on the policy-making process. Zelizer's account o 'The Fierce Urgency of Now' is deeply impressive from the standpoint both of the scholar and of the general reader. The book puts into action what Zelizer calls the 'new political history,' which attempts to rebut the 'liberal presidential synthesis of the mid-twentieth century by demonstrating that political institutions - such as Congress - and social movements - such as the civil rights movement - not just individual presidents, have an impact on the policy-making process. Zelizer's account of the Great Society brings this analytic framework to life, demonstrating how individual congressmen, under near-constant pressure from the civil rights movement, worked with LBJ to produce the most wide-ranging domestic reform programme since the New Deal. Aside from proving the utility of the new political history, Zelizer's book is ferociously readable, conveying every inch of the 'fierce urgency' of which the title speaks. It is little wonder that I read the entire book in a matter of hours. If you want to know more about the Great Society, then - read this book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben Vance

    A view easy overview of how the Great Society was passed through Congress with an emphasis on LBJ’s work with the house and senate. It’s a fun easy read that does a good job a introducing the stage for beginners. I found the set up for the 88th Congress to be helpful in understanding 60’s America. I will say that it isn’t particularly deep and the author isn’t interested in question the movies of Johnson or asking difficult questions of his complacency in opposition to the civil rights movement. A view easy overview of how the Great Society was passed through Congress with an emphasis on LBJ’s work with the house and senate. It’s a fun easy read that does a good job a introducing the stage for beginners. I found the set up for the 88th Congress to be helpful in understanding 60’s America. I will say that it isn’t particularly deep and the author isn’t interested in question the movies of Johnson or asking difficult questions of his complacency in opposition to the civil rights movement. Otherwise a fun read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    This book tells the story of the passage of the Great Society legislation and it's cast of characters. There was a narrow window of time for this to get done and LBJ and others navigated the small window to pass some of the most impact full legislation in US history. Johnson had several stars line up at once and he (and others) took advantage of the moment in history. Read this book to understand how the Great Society and Civil Rights laws came to be. This book tells the story of the passage of the Great Society legislation and it's cast of characters. There was a narrow window of time for this to get done and LBJ and others navigated the small window to pass some of the most impact full legislation in US history. Johnson had several stars line up at once and he (and others) took advantage of the moment in history. Read this book to understand how the Great Society and Civil Rights laws came to be.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Young

    This is a well-written history and a great survey of the triumphs and failures of the Great Society. But it feels redundant -- this history is well-trod and has been recounted many times before. And it seems to fail at Zelizer's own stated aim -- to provide a movement-focused, street-level view of how the LBJ-led social reforms happened. This is a basic D.C.-based political narrative -- 90% of the book is about Congress and the president. This is a well-written history and a great survey of the triumphs and failures of the Great Society. But it feels redundant -- this history is well-trod and has been recounted many times before. And it seems to fail at Zelizer's own stated aim -- to provide a movement-focused, street-level view of how the LBJ-led social reforms happened. This is a basic D.C.-based political narrative -- 90% of the book is about Congress and the president.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tommy Kiedis

    A fascinating and insightful analysis of the people and events that facilitated the amazing legislative efforts of LBJ and the 89th Congress. Zelizer appreciates Johnson and gives him his due, but demonstrates that the "great man" was aided by fortuitous circumstances in his quest to build the Great Society. A fascinating and insightful analysis of the people and events that facilitated the amazing legislative efforts of LBJ and the 89th Congress. Zelizer appreciates Johnson and gives him his due, but demonstrates that the "great man" was aided by fortuitous circumstances in his quest to build the Great Society.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mrs. Danvers

    Just what I was looking for - - a historical account of the forces that combined to enact the Great Society legislation, written recently enough to also include the reverberations through succeeding presidencies.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This book was, from the perspective of this reader, a miniature biography of Lyndon Johnson.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Cummings

    Excellent book. Excellently written. Even if you are familiar with the fight for Civil Rights and Voting Rights, Zelizer still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Weissmann

    Good clear summary of the legislative history of the Great Society that with enough social and political context to keep things interesting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    In sports, there's a common concept of a "championship window." The basic idea that the combination of players' ages, salary caps, and other conditions means that a team has just a short opportunity in which to make a championship push. While knowing the exact length of the window is impossible, the perception that a window is closing drives choices that sacrifice long-term prospects for short-term gain. All or nothing. It's kind of surprising that similar concepts don't manifest themselves more In sports, there's a common concept of a "championship window." The basic idea that the combination of players' ages, salary caps, and other conditions means that a team has just a short opportunity in which to make a championship push. While knowing the exact length of the window is impossible, the perception that a window is closing drives choices that sacrifice long-term prospects for short-term gain. All or nothing. It's kind of surprising that similar concepts don't manifest themselves more often in politics. You sometimes hear it--such as presidents when they first get elected trying to stress getting things done. But you almost never see it from the legislative branch. Since they have no term limits, the goal becomes more about loss aversion--making sure you don't get trounced by an electoral opponent--and less about taking advantage of the time you have. I don't know that "The Fierce of Urgency of Now" blazes any new ground from a factual basis. The descriptions of Congressional jockeying are really well executed, but not things you haven't read elsewhere. But what is fascinating is how much he stresses the sense of timing and other pressures and the role they played in driving the Great Society. It's a break with the great man theory of history that always portrayed Lyndon Johnson as a masterful wheeler and dealer to get things done. Instead, it pulls in the larger context--of big Democratic majorities in both houses, the political pressure from outside civil rights groups, and the trouncing Republicans took thanks to Goldwater in 1964 that created a window of opportunity. Under this theory, Johnson's political acumen still matters, but it's because he recognized the window he was given and took advantage of it. Clearly, a lot of what allowed the Great Society to happen is unique. There were fundamental shifts in political parties as the resorting between northern Republicans and southern Democrats was starting. There were many Republicans who actually wanted civil rights legislation more so than Democrats. And there were others who realized that a bill was coming no matter what and the bad electoral outcomes in 1964 meant that things would get worse if they didn't go along as well. It's hard to imagine something similar happening today, where the sense is obstructionism can be a winning tactic. But the book does make me wonder if our political system would be better served by taking advantage of windows and being more aggressive when they arise. Yes, the Great Society led to a ton of Democrats losing elected positions and probably changed our long-term political calculus for decades. But it also produced a broad sweeping amount of changes for the better in American society, of which only health care reform comes close in the intervening years. Johnson knew some of his changes were likely to result in Democratic losses (though apparently that quote about having lost the South for a generation isn't really). And he was willing to take the risks to still pass something. If only more legislators were willing to do the same thing. The Blue Dogs in the 2006 to 2010 period are a good example of a sometimes wasted window. Many of them tried to vote against Democratic things and probably watered down some legislation. But what they really should have recognized is that many of them were political anomalies--holding seats they would be very hard pressed to keep no matter what they did. In that case, erring on the side of conservatism and caution didn't get them anything. Politics eventually reverted back to more or less the mean and the seats that are most likely to switch went back to the party that had traditionally held them. Obviously, knowing you are most likely to lose and still acting properly to essentially concede that is a hard thing for a person to do. It's a massive blow to the ego. And it raises concerns for the national party--you don't want to lose too many seats or legislative achievements will come undone. But one lesson we should take away from the last several years of American politics is that it takes a lot fewer people to play defense than offense. You're better off going all in and getting as much as possible, then defending it tooth and nail until it's an accepted structure that can't be touched. In many ways that type of behavior is the enduring lesson of the Great Society that I took away from this book. Hopefully elected officials will start thinking the same way.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    As I was reading The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society, I had a vision of a thick steel bank vault door coming open. This door is the short period of time in which the second New Deal were passed under President Lyndon Johnson. After Kennedy was assassinated, President Johnson started to map out the legislative changes that he wanted to see. Lyndon Johnson was a New Deal Democrat. He appreciated FDR’s programs and he was greatly influenced by hi As I was reading The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society, I had a vision of a thick steel bank vault door coming open. This door is the short period of time in which the second New Deal were passed under President Lyndon Johnson. After Kennedy was assassinated, President Johnson started to map out the legislative changes that he wanted to see. Lyndon Johnson was a New Deal Democrat. He appreciated FDR’s programs and he was greatly influenced by his father standing up to the Klu Klux Klan and his own experiences teaching the children of Mexican Americans and by seeing their parents dig through garbage trying to find something to eat. He was determined to get President Kennedy’s programs passed and to add his own programs that focused on poverty. Julian E. Zelizer does not only tells us the stories that make this era come to life but he examines the situation and finds that it is not just the man that made it happen but a myriad of circumstances. The grassroot activists who were able to change the power setup of Congress, the events inside the country and the interactions of the power brokers. Amazingly, these changes although difficult to make initially did not get reversed. Mr. Zelizer’s in depth research shows up in the stories that are well documented in the back of the book under Notes. This is a book to learn from. It is not that Johnson was a big wheeler dealer but so many other factors were in the mix. There had to be a way to get around the filibuster and to crack the tight bond of the resistors of change. When Lyndon Johnson was ready to graduate from high school, his parents were suddenly plunged into poverty. It took a series of manual labor jobs to teach him that he needed get more education than continue the hard physical labor. This lesson later came out in his desire for children to have better education than they were getting then. The author exposes the bad characteristics of Lyndon Johnson too. But is this not a book about Lyndon Johnson, this book is about everything coming together so that legislative changes could happen. President Johnson recognized the opportunity and took the challenge. There was also a place in this book where he seemed realize that this door of opportunity was closing. This book is an analysis of the period in which these changes happened and the author makes you aware why they could happen. The opportunity arose from so many factors an upset to the power set up in congress, the grassroots activists, rise of new groups and a huge change in politics. If future change is to happen, another “change in the political landscape” must occur. I selected this book from Amazon Vine but receiving it free did not influence my review in any way.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Adam S. Rust

    This book is a master course in the American political process. Covering the trevails of liberal politics from the New Deal to the Great Socity, Julian Zelizer seeks to rebut two common narratives about the astounding success of liberal politics in the 1960s. The first, the "liberal hour" thesis, holds that the success of Lyndon Johnson in getting the Great Society passed arose from a the high tide of slow liberal ascendency from the New Deal forward. The second, the "Johnson treatment" thesis, This book is a master course in the American political process. Covering the trevails of liberal politics from the New Deal to the Great Socity, Julian Zelizer seeks to rebut two common narratives about the astounding success of liberal politics in the 1960s. The first, the "liberal hour" thesis, holds that the success of Lyndon Johnson in getting the Great Society passed arose from a the high tide of slow liberal ascendency from the New Deal forward. The second, the "Johnson treatment" thesis, holds that Lyndon Johnson was an unstoppable force of nature who could not be deterred from accomplishing his political goals through means including bribery to coercion. Zelizer's narrative avoids the "inevitability" of the liberal hour thesis and the "Great Man" assumptionso of the Johnson Treatment thesis. In Zelizer's telling the Great Society is a result of a series of converging factors none of which, indpenedently, could guarantee the deluge of Great Society programs that were passed by "the fabulous 89th Congress" of 1965-66. First, the moral outrage against Jim Crow generated by the Civil Rights movement in the South broke the conservative coalation of Midwest Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress. Second, the radicalization of the Republican Party under Barry Goldwater scared moderates into voting for a landslide victory for Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party in the 1964 presidential election. Third, the tagteam effort of Lyndon Johnson and key members of the Congressional Leadership (both moderate Republicans and Liberal Democracts) in getting a coaltion together to overcome the Southern filibuster. Zelizer walks the reader clearly through this give and take at the political level, but the Zelizer provides something pretty wonderful when he gets into discussions of procedure and policy. Zelizer, more than any other historian I know aside from Robert Caro, does a wonderful job of walking the reader not only through the tense negotations and political posturing of the election cycle, but also at explaining the complex procedural moves made by Liberal Democrats to bypass Southern Democrats when passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, as well as bypassing Republicans on other Great Society programs. Zelizer also does a wonderful job of summarizing the basic policy compromises that went into getting these programs through the labyrinth of the Legislative Branch. And finally, the most amazing thing is that Zelizer covers so many issues at a such a deep level in just over 300 pages. This is, without a doubt, one of the best books of political history I've read in a long time. Highly recommended.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of how politics really works and how change happens in Washington, I recommend this book highly. Julian Zelizer writes a detailed but readable and thoughtful history of the legislative battles that created the Great Society, one that emphasizes and embraces the challenges and complications of pushing progressive policy into law. It is in some ways a deeply disheartening book, which makes the case that the Great Society was born of a very brief window openi If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of how politics really works and how change happens in Washington, I recommend this book highly. Julian Zelizer writes a detailed but readable and thoughtful history of the legislative battles that created the Great Society, one that emphasizes and embraces the challenges and complications of pushing progressive policy into law. It is in some ways a deeply disheartening book, which makes the case that the Great Society was born of a very brief window opening where a whole host of factors (a good economy, popular support for certain liberal policies, a bold and progressive-minded president with legislative skills and conservative credentials, a sea change election that created a strong left-wing coalition in Congress and a perception that moderates needed to separate themselves from conservatives, numerous constituencies with temporarily aligned interests, a strong grassroots movement for change) all happened to line up in just the right way to allow for decisive action. That moment allowed them to change the country permanently, but it was by its very nature fragile and quickly disintegrated, and it is not one that you can see being recreated easily to force a similar moment in our history now. Zelizer makes a strong case against the Great Man theory of politics in general and with The Great Society in particular, and highlights the importance of building coalitions and beneficial political incentives to legislative success. What he describes is a world that looks a lot more familiar and realistic to close followers of the grinding wheels of American government than inspiring but simplistic tales of charismatic leaders and ideas whose times have come, but one that makes it clear, to put it plainly, just how hard it is create the conditions to make a better nation possible. In an election cycle characterized by candidates making sweeping promises about how everything is going to change if you elect them, it’s an important perspective to bear in mind. Probably not the book to read if this campaign is getting you down, but any poli sci major who enjoyed their classes will like this one.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This book is a sprightly and readable account of what are perhaps the most consequential four years of legislation in U.S. history. Zelizer focuses on the procedural machinations and political gladhanding that made 1964 to 1968 so productive. While giving due credit to President Johnson, he shows that the real action happened in congressional committees and chambers. He shows Johnson got the tax cut of 1964 through only because he promised Senator Harry Byrd of the Finance Committee that he'd ke This book is a sprightly and readable account of what are perhaps the most consequential four years of legislation in U.S. history. Zelizer focuses on the procedural machinations and political gladhanding that made 1964 to 1968 so productive. While giving due credit to President Johnson, he shows that the real action happened in congressional committees and chambers. He shows Johnson got the tax cut of 1964 through only because he promised Senator Harry Byrd of the Finance Committee that he'd keep the budget below $100 billion (a promise that was not kept). The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 came through only because Majority Leader Senator Mike Mansfield brought the bill out from Mississippi Senator James Eastland's Judiciary Committee, and because Senator Hubert Humphrey organized the "Civil Rights Corporals' Guard," with one Senator assigned to each subject of the bill, and kept a phone list handy so he could always have a quorum ready if it was called. Government cars followed the liberal Senators everywhere to bring them back to session if necessary. Yet Zelizer shows that the real reason for much of the legislation was the 1964 elections, which created a 265-140 Democratic majority in the House and a 68-32 majority in the Senate. After that, the liberal Democratic Study Group could push Wilbur Mills to create Medicare and Medicaid, and could push through, with surprisingly little resistance, a voting rights act, an open immigration act, an Appalachian Development Act, a water quality act, and so on. It organized Carl Perkins and Adam Clayton Powell in the House and Wayne Morse in the Senate to push through a educational funding act, and placated Catholics by allowing funding to follow poor students, not just public schools. The 1966 elections, however, brought the conservatives back into power and. along with a ballooning deficit, led to a cut in spending and a surtax hike in 1968, though they did pass a fair housing act that year too. There's nothing much surprising in this book for people who've read up on these years, but it's all told clearly and with verve. It's a great piece of congressional and political history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    In the legislative session immediately following the landslide election of 1964, Congress enacted a slew of legislation in order to advance LBJ's Great Society program, ending years of political stalemate and obstruction. Looking back, this achievement is often ascribed to the towering personalities of the time, President Johnson most of all. In this book, the author takes to task our flawed historical memories of these events and attempts to consider politics in a more realistic light. Instead In the legislative session immediately following the landslide election of 1964, Congress enacted a slew of legislation in order to advance LBJ's Great Society program, ending years of political stalemate and obstruction. Looking back, this achievement is often ascribed to the towering personalities of the time, President Johnson most of all. In this book, the author takes to task our flawed historical memories of these events and attempts to consider politics in a more realistic light. Instead of focusing on individuals, their particular gifts of persuasion, such as Johnson's infamous Treatment, or nebulous attributes such as leadership, the author contends that the political climate and landscape were much more influential in getting Great Society legislation enacted. It was not so much Johnson's leadership and mastery of the legislative process that got his agenda passed as the overwhelming size of the liberal majority in Congress, the crushing defeat of Goldwater and public pressure applied by civil rights groups and the media. When political fortunes turned and the conservatives regained much of their losses in the 1966 midterms, the liberal agenda faltered accordingly. There is an implicit comparison to the Obama administration and his critics who complain that the persistent political deadlock and partisan vituperation are due to the president's inability or unwillingness to reach across the aisle, demonstrate leadership, etc. Individuals matter and each person's gifts and foibles play their role, but success or failure of any political agenda are determined by circumstances and the relative strength of the political coalition pursuing that agenda.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    On its own this is a decent book, though one that I often found boring and occasionally too intent on giving things a positive spin. It is definitely a high-level overview of the era, intended as an introduction rather than as an exhaustive exploration of one specific subject. This was generally why I didn't care for it; I thought it compared very unfavorably to more narrowly targeted works on legislation from this period, such as Gary May's "Bending Toward Justice," which focused primarily on t On its own this is a decent book, though one that I often found boring and occasionally too intent on giving things a positive spin. It is definitely a high-level overview of the era, intended as an introduction rather than as an exhaustive exploration of one specific subject. This was generally why I didn't care for it; I thought it compared very unfavorably to more narrowly targeted works on legislation from this period, such as Gary May's "Bending Toward Justice," which focused primarily on the Voting Rights Act. Similarly, due to its brief length and broad focus, it lacked a nuanced exploration of the personalities involved and tended to treat almost everyone as "well-intentioned, if occasionally misguided." Compared to something like Robert A. Caro's engaging portrait of LBJ as a consummate politician and arm-twisting SOB fighting for the Civil Rights Acts, this comes off as shallow. The parts that I did enjoy covered subjects that I had not read about much before, such as the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, though I imagine these will also appear in the 5th Caro book. Good as an introduction, but weak tea for those with a little more exposure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ken Schloman

    I received this book as a give-a-way from Goodreads. I read this book with an eye to the detail of the legislative process based on my 30 years experience as a congressional staffer and lobbyist in Washington DC. The author, without making President Johnson a mythic figure, as many other works do. Rather he focuses on the strategic role the President played in developing the coalition necessary to pass the landmark bills that created the "Great Society". This is the way any significant legislati I received this book as a give-a-way from Goodreads. I read this book with an eye to the detail of the legislative process based on my 30 years experience as a congressional staffer and lobbyist in Washington DC. The author, without making President Johnson a mythic figure, as many other works do. Rather he focuses on the strategic role the President played in developing the coalition necessary to pass the landmark bills that created the "Great Society". This is the way any significant legislation must move through Congress. It takes a coalition of both Democrats and Republicans, along with compromise and making the minority a key part of the process. Today's leaders in Washington should take a hard look at how they conduct business. We will never solve the many issues facing the country unless they learn how significant laws are made.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I got this book from goodreads first reads and if I had known how wonderful it was I would have gone out and bought it instead. It has a lot of good insight for historians but is still very approachable for those just curious or want to know more about the era. It also provides a good reminder of the necessity to not grow overly glossy or complacent in our well warn paths of understanding. It urges us to look at all the facets and perspectives of a situation - in this case LBJ, his relation to c I got this book from goodreads first reads and if I had known how wonderful it was I would have gone out and bought it instead. It has a lot of good insight for historians but is still very approachable for those just curious or want to know more about the era. It also provides a good reminder of the necessity to not grow overly glossy or complacent in our well warn paths of understanding. It urges us to look at all the facets and perspectives of a situation - in this case LBJ, his relation to congress, and the many proposals and programs part of the Great Society - so that we can better understand the moment. This type of history is not just about the great people but more about how those people were able to seize the moment and the opportunity and run with it. In general the book had great narrative power. It transformed hum-drum dry political facts into a driven, interesting book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    This well written and informative book details the legislative battles that President Lyndon Johnson fought with Congress to get his “Great Society” domestic policy initiatives implemented. The book goes into detail about the arm-twisting and deal making that were required to get signature pieces of legislation like the various Civil Rights bills and Medicare and Medicaid passed. There is a fair deal of coverage of the content of the various bills. However, I found that an earlier book, written This well written and informative book details the legislative battles that President Lyndon Johnson fought with Congress to get his “Great Society” domestic policy initiatives implemented. The book goes into detail about the arm-twisting and deal making that were required to get signature pieces of legislation like the various Civil Rights bills and Medicare and Medicaid passed. There is a fair deal of coverage of the content of the various bills. However, I found that an earlier book, written in 1998, “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society” by John A. Andrew III provides more background and greater detail as to the actual domestic policies implemented by Johnson. Andrew’s book also recounts the contempt that the then House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, had for everything associated with the Great Society.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    An accessible history of the Johnson era, primarily focused on his legislative accomplishments. The book challenges the Johnson-as-master-of-the-senate legend and instead largely attributes the success of the Great Society to the landslide Congressional victories of 1964, which ushered in a large enough liberal coalition to break the conservative stranglehold in the House and Senate. Probably the most striking point was how heterogeneous and open to cross-aisle collaboration the two major partie An accessible history of the Johnson era, primarily focused on his legislative accomplishments. The book challenges the Johnson-as-master-of-the-senate legend and instead largely attributes the success of the Great Society to the landslide Congressional victories of 1964, which ushered in a large enough liberal coalition to break the conservative stranglehold in the House and Senate. Probably the most striking point was how heterogeneous and open to cross-aisle collaboration the two major parties were at the time, compared to the increasingly polarized and sorted parties of today, so I think that's the biggest strand of future reading for me to follow this with. The last few chapters document the Northern white backlash in response to housing rights legislation and racial riots around the country, something that's discussed in greater detail in books like Nixonland.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd Fassett

    1/24/14 Read a long review in Slate. "revisionist" thinking by emphasizing Johnson's Era as a key force behind his legislative success instead of his personality and skills. Essentially, he was good at taking advantage of the direction things were going in anyway. 2/21/15 Read a positive review in the Wall St Journal saying that Johnson is the start of modern Democrats, not FDR. The reviewer points out the rise in unwed births particularly among blacks as a consequence of Civil Rights. The book i 1/24/14 Read a long review in Slate. "revisionist" thinking by emphasizing Johnson's Era as a key force behind his legislative success instead of his personality and skills. Essentially, he was good at taking advantage of the direction things were going in anyway. 2/21/15 Read a positive review in the Wall St Journal saying that Johnson is the start of modern Democrats, not FDR. The reviewer points out the rise in unwed births particularly among blacks as a consequence of Civil Rights. The book is about government embracing an activist role in society and that Johnson didn't question that role. The review is humorously conservative in its closing though. It's like the WSJ pays people to write the conservative jab to cater to its' readership.

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