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Nick Kotz

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America

A-JudgmentDaysOne week in 1968 saw two important departures from American politics: Lyndon Baines Johnson announced he would not run for reelection, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Kotz describes the events leading up to that week and the relationship between two key players in the fight against segregation. Johnson and King were never exactly friends—the President reportedly enjoyed FBI reports of King’s marital infidelities—but their meetings brought forth such influential civil rights legislation as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Kotz’s account draws on newly released documents, including taped telephone conversations and FBI logs, to depict two lives whose greatness was marred by failings and their success by tragedy.
Houghton Mifflin. 522 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618088253

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[M]eticulous research, restrained prose and deep appreciation of motivation and character … make Judgment Days a stirring, indeed heartbreaking, book. … Nick Kotz has reset the terms of debate on Lyndon Johnson." Samuel G. Freedman

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Judgment Days] occasionally reads like a tedious political science textbook but more often delivers a gripping historical account of the civil rights movement during the Johnson administration." T. R. Sullivan

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… fascinating .… The author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist born in San Antonio, does not avoid the less appealing sides of the two central figures, be it Mr. Johnson’s occasional lapses into racist language or Dr. King’s sexual misbehavior." Carl P. Leubsdorf

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kotz offers a superb analysis of the relationship that President Johnson and the Rev. King forged to dismantle the segregated south." Char Miller

Critical Summary

Critics agree that the strength of Judgment Days lies in its new approach to an old story. One detractor found the account stale at times, complaining that the section on Vietnam seemed like a rehash. Most readers, however, focused less on the familiarity of Kotz’s source material and more on the remarkable insight he brings to a tense relationship. Judgment Days is not an exposé, but rather a personal and psychological approach to an oft-analyzed political moment. Kotz deserves particular praise for his deep examination of Johnson, who emerges from Judgment Days as a man of serious flaws but monumental courage.

Supplemental Reading

Bearing the Cross Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference | David Garrow (1986): Award Star Pulitzer Prize for Biography. A definitive account of MLK’s private life and his leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Master of the Senate | Robert Caro (2002): Award Star Pulitzer Prize for Biography. In the third volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Caro examines the Senatorial doings of the youngest Majority Leader in history.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream | Doris Kearns Goodwin (1976): In this classic account of LBJ’s life, the author (a former member of the White House staff) offers an insider’s analysis of the former President’s vision.