three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
By: 
Lance Morrow
user_rating: 
0

Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948: Learning the Secrets of Power

A-BestYearLivesIn 1948, Columbia Records introduced the 33 1/3 rpm LP record, the Hell’s Angels formed, and Harry Truman triumphed over Thomas Dewey. The year also marked a "rite of passage" for three young politicians and their divergent Presidential paths. In 1948, Lyndon B. Johnson, who represented both Civil Rights and Vietnam, began to nurture his dishonesty. John F. Kennedy, a symbol of optimism, nearly died, then lied about his health. And Richard Nixon, defined by Watergate, cultivated his relationship with the influential Whittaker Chambers. Each took a distinct path to power; each made ruthless moral compromises to remain there. None "was a great man," Morrow concludes. But in the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, their defects represented those of America’s.
Basic. 312 pages. $26. ISBN: 0465047238

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Morrow] combines journalism and intellectualism about as skillfully as anybody writing in the United States today. … He is determined to demonstrate how the varied geographic and socioeconomic upbringings of the three men led to the development of their outsize, flawed, ultimately dominant characters." Steve Weinberg

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For those who worship L.B.J. biographers such as Robert Caro and Robert Dallek, Kennedy authors like Joan and Clay Blair, Jr. and Doris Kearns Goodwin, or Nixon biographers Roger Morris and the late Stephen Ambrose, this book is definitely history lite."
James O’Shea

San Jose Mercury News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What Morrow has done … is to meld an attentive reading of the standard works on the three with his own experience as Washington kid, Senate page boy, journalist, and son of journalists. Entertainment and brevity are worth something, too." David L. Beck

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"In Morrow’s reading, the psychological makeup of his three subjects seems almost to predetermine later events—Vietnam and Watergate especially. … You don’t have to agree with all of Morrow’s interpretations to be entertained by his lively treatment of three crucial figures during an important time in American history." Kevin Mattson

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Another theme he tosses into this hodgepodge of a book is that the three men represented archetypes—not just of American culture but of classical mythology as well. … Readers who know nothing about any of these men might get lost in the tangled musings, and those who know a lot won’t find anything particularly new."
Zachary Karabell

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 0.5 of 5 Stars
"… [Morrow] employs such an idiosyncratic style himself that his new book borders on the incomprehensible. … Three future presidents, three distinct lives, very little in common." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Morrow, an author, professor, and journalist for Time magazine, analyzes three men’s personal histories against the backdrop of 1948, which inspired their divergent careers and visions. Although he offers little new information, Morrow provides entertaining, warts-and-all insights into three Presidents’ characters. Most critics found his writing and analyses intellectual and powerful; a few, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saw botched linguistic gymnastics, chronological haphazardness, a deep sense of predetermination, and psychobabble (Johnson as God’s id, for example) instead. But, in this age of evenhanded presidential biographies, Morrow’s sympathy toward Nixon and less-than-flattering portrait of Kennedy are refreshing.