Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency, by Mark Updegrove

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency is a fascinating look at one of the most contradictory personalities in American history. Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the great legislators in American history. Widely considered one of the best Senators in history even before becoming Kennedy’s Vice President, LBJ was wildly successful at passing landmark bills as President that ushered in the concept of the Great Society. But he was also trapped in the mire of Vietnam and never could figure out the best approach in that country. He was one of the most interesting personalities in American public life and people never fully understood the man.

I’m really glad that I downloaded the book from The audiobook is filled with quotes from other people about LBJ and includes actual telephone recordings of LBJ when he was President. For instance, you get to listen in as he describes to a tailor the type of slacks he wants (crude comments and all). More importantly — and more helpful in understanding LBJ’s personality — you hear conversations where LBJ strong-arms politicians on legislation. There are even personal conversations he had with his wife Ladybird Johnson. It’s an audiobook that fully exploits the medium.

The book itself is good. I don’t know if it’s the best book about LBJ out there, but it’s a fascinating look at a bigger than life personality. Focusing specifically on LBJ’s time as President, the author paints a picture of a rough man who has infinite layers of personality. LBJ sounds like a man in a hurry, who knows his moment to change the world is going to be fleeting. And despite his consuming focus on Vietnam late in his career, LBJ comes across as compassionate and wise.

Definitely recommended, but especially the audiobook format.