The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Burk's biography shows that the phenomenon known as Eisenhower
revisionism has entered a new and more mature stage. The author re-
lies heavily on the work of such revisionists as Fred I. Greenstein and
Stephen E. Ambrose, as well as this reviewer, to argue that, despite ap-
pearances, Ike was in full command of the nation as president in the
1950s. But at the same time he is much more critical of Eisenhower's
actual policies than these writers, particularly in regard to Eisenhower's
rigid cold-war stance and his reluctant embrace of the welfare state.
The result is a persuasive portrait of a good but not great president, a
man who served the nation well by his own standards, but who did not
live up fully to the promise of his heroic reputation.
The University of Texas at Austin ROBERT A. DIVINE
Big Daddy from the Pedernales: Lyndon Baines Johnson. By Paul K. Conkin.
(Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1986. Pp. xii+324. Foreword, preface,
photographs, sources, index. $24.95.)
Biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson are numerous. Alfred Steinberg's
Sam Johnson's Boy: A Close-up of the Preszdent from Texas (1968), Doris
Kearns's Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976), Merle Miller's
Lyndon: An Oral Biography (198o), Robert A. Caro's The Years of Lyndon
Johnson: The Path to Power (1982), and Ronnie Dugger's The Politician:
The Life and Times ofLyndonJohnson (1982) are the best accounts to date.
All the authors are journalists, except for Doris Kearns, a political sci-
entist and Johnson aide.
Paul K. Conkin's book is the first comprehensive biography by a his-
torian. Does it improve on what the journalists and political scientist
have done? Without question. While the earlier works have made an
indispensable contribution to the reconstruction of Johnson's life, cap-
turing recollections of LBJ's contemporaries and marshalling essential
details, they have been marred by overstatement and excessive empha-
sis on personality at the expense of major historical events. Johnson was
such an outsized character that journalistic biographers-amused, an-
gered, and enthralled by the man-have allowed him to overshadow
the great historical developments with which he was involved. In a re-
cent television biography of Johnson's prepresidential years, for ex-
ample, the focus was so much on Johnson that the viewer barely knew
there was a depression, a New Deal, or a Second World War.
Conkin's book has three special virtues: it is comprehensive, offering
an overview of the entire life in three hundred pages; it is judicious,
balancing Johnson's strengths against his weaknesses and his successes
against his failures; and it is a historian's detached assessment of prin-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/. Accessed December 26, 2014.