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George North
HIST 4991
November 7, 1994

Evans, Rowland and Robert Novak, Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power, First edition. The New American Library, Inc., 1966. 598pp.

The contemporary view of Lyndon Johnson remains clouded by America's involvement in Vietnam. Evans and Novak avoided this by writing their book before Vietnam became a great issue in American politics. Their book ends with the second year of Johnson's first elected term as president, his fourth year as president. Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power is a political biography. It examines one of America's most powerful politicians, Landslide Lyndon.

In preparing and writing this book, Evans and Novak relied on their intensive experience as Washington reporters and their own personal observations. They also conducted more than two hundred special interviews with political figures and government officials who either participated in or observed the events described. Evans and Novak conducted interviews from January, 1965 to April, 1966. The majority of these sources are called "our anonymous collaborators." Published in the middle of an active President's term in office, few of these "anonymous collaborators" could be expected to speak on the record. There is a very extensive index, making this a good reference source.

Rowland Evans attended Yale University until joining the Marines at the outbreak of World War II. His career in journalism included covering politics and Congress for Associated Press, New York Herald Tribune , and others. He traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the Far East, writing for Herald Tribune and various magazines. Other published books (all with Robert Novak) include: Nixon in the White House: The Frustration of Power , Random House, 1971; and The Reagan Revolution , Dutton, 1981.

Robert Novak graduated from the University of Illinois. Starting in 1948, he worked as a correspondent for newspapers in Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana, and Washington D.C. From 1954 to 1963, he was Washington correspondent for Associated Press and then the Wall Street Journal . In 1963 he started writing a nationally syndicated column, "Inside Report," with Rowland Evans. In addition to the books with Rowland Evans, he wrote: The Agony of the GOP , Macmillian, 1964 and Mass Media and Modern Democracy , Rand McNally, 1974.

The Exercise of Power relates Lyndon Johnson's political career, his election to congress, his failed campaign for the Senate, then his election to the Senate in 1948 at the age of 40. He lost then won Senate elections by less then 100 votes, earning him his nickname, Landslide Lyndon. These elections are shown to affect Johnson's politics the rest of his life. Every move that Johnson made in the Senate was in some degree governed by political considerations back home. Johnson's ability to establish relationships (the Johnson Network), collect favors, and make deals soon became famous (the Johnson Treatment). After being in the Senate for only three years, he was elected assistant Democratic leader in 1951. Two years later he became Senate Majority Leader. Johnson completely revamped the role of majority leader to suit his own style, and before finishing his first term he became the most important, most powerful member in the Senate.

Johnson sought power and enjoyed the exercise of power. By age 45, he collected more political power and the skills to use that power than anyone before him. Early in his career, he developed a deep distrust for high military leaders. But he was an ardent supporter of military and defense projects and was way out in front of contemporaries in support of satellite and space projects. Lingering doubts about his voter support led to anxious efforts to find out if voters really loved him.
With a great sense of duty, Johnson never shrank from his responsibilities or a call to duty. He worked hard and expected his assistants to place his business before their own. This became widely known, and often led to Johnson's inability to convince his first choice to accept an appointment.
As president, Johnson succeeded where no one else could. His passage of major civil rights legislation over objections of the solid South proved nothing short of miraculous. His "Great Society" program had the potential to correct many problems that still burden America today. But Vietnam stymied Lyndon Johnson. He lacked ways to manipulate the forces involved, leaving him unable to exercise his immense political power. Evans and Novak demonstrate that, despite contrary views, Johnson prosecuted the war with restraint, compassion, and an unswerving determination to secure an honorable settlement. It was a war he had not started and could not end, a war that broke his consensus, alienated the liberal wing of his party, and threatened to undermine his higher purposes. A war fought without major allies, without front lines, and without the comfortable and easy goal of total victory that glorified other wars. While they are sympathetic to Jonhson's Vietnam policies, Evans and Novak explain persuasively why the way he did it estranged so many people, not just in his party and the country but through the world.

Donald Young wrote a favorable review published in Saturday Review , October 22, 1966. Another favorable review is found in New York Review of Books by Alfred Kazin. Other less extensive, but also favorable reviews are: A. M. Schlesinger, Jr. in Book Week , October 16, 1966; L.L. King in New Republic , November 12, 1966. The book is included in "Suggestions for Further Reading", Rise to Globalism by Stephen E. Ambrose.

The Exercise of Power presents a view of Lyndon Johnson before the grief of his last two years as president, two years that broke his will. Evans and Novak provide us with a good book. It preserves a picture of Johnson before Vietnam clouded the view of America's greatest power'tician.