Final batch of book reviews


These are the first three books we've read in my U.S. Policy History course this semester, and once I get this review up, I'll be all caught up!

On Capitol HIll book coverby Julian E. Zelizer
Cambridge University Press, March 22, 2004

Don't read this book. It's boring. I'm interested in policy history and how Congress works, and I was bored out of my mind. It's also a lousy primer, because it skips around in time and doesn't spell things out clearly. It's a book all about Congressional reform written for people who already know all about Congressional reform. With that audience of around 13, Zelizer ought to be rolling in dough.

Friends in High Places book coverby David McKean and Douglas Frantz
Little, Brown; 1st ed edition, September 12, 1995

Clark Clifford was a powerful Washington insider/lobbyist/lawyer/Secretary of Defense for LBJ. He reigned in Washington all the way from Truman's administration through Clinton's, and pulled all sorts of tricks without getting caught until the late 80s in a shady banking deal. This book is a fairly sympathetic biography of him, and it's a fun read if you are in to political scandal, especially as it has changed (or not) over the years. I didn't come away from the book liking or respecting Clifford (who was a liberal Democrat, or at least supposed to be one), as I think the authors may have wanted me to, but I did come away from it amused and aghast, and there was definitely some political dirt in it worth knowing. It was also interesting to get an idea of the old-school cronyism that went on to mediate my feelings about W's brand--he's not doing anything that wasn't perfected before he was even born. Maybe thinking things never actually change makes me a bad historian, but if the shoe fits...

LBJ book coverby Robert Dallek
Oxford University Press, USA, January 8, 2004

If you thought the Clifford book was scandalous...

LBJ liked to show his penis to people. 'Nuff said.

This book is a shortened version of Dallek's much longer and more complete LBJ biography. If you are going to read one of the two, I suggest this one, because the other one is just way too much LBJ, though the editing isn't very good and there are things he leaves out that I would have kept in and visa versa. That being said, it's another fun read, because LBJ was a political dynamo, as well as being an absolutely appalling human being, and the things he did and said leave you both laughing and seething. And, weirdly, sometimes respecting him (especially when he was in the Senate). Sort of the way you'd respect Madonna as a businessperson but not a musician, I guess. Also like Madonna, it's worth a look at LBJ's early work--we think too much about how his career ended up and not enough about how it began. Anyway, it's an entertaining book, if presidential biography is your thing, but it's certainly not the best one I've read.

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