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Just Had To

R.W. Johnson: LBJ, 20 March 2003

The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Vol III: Master of the Senate 
by Robert A. Caro.
Cape, 1102 pp., £30, August 2002, 0 394 52836 0
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... else again. Whereas British political biography, with the (white) elephantine exception of Martin Gilbert’s Churchill is, almost as a matter of professional pride, a one-volume affair, there is a well established American tradition of monumentalism, based, it seems, on the assumption that a blockbusting person requires a blockbuster book. Caro seems ...

The Ugly Revolution

Michael Rogin: Martin Luther King Jr, 10 May 2001

I May Not Get there with You: The True Martin Luther King Jr 
by Michael Eric Dyson.
Free Press, 404 pp., £15.99, May 2000, 0 684 86776 1
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The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr. Vol. IV: Symbol of the Movement January 1957-December 1958 
edited by Clayborne Carson et al.
California, 637 pp., £31.50, May 2000, 0 520 22231 8
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... centuries of legally enshrined, lethally enforced white supremacy to an end. Its national hero is Martin Luther King Jr. Far from giving way in the face of moral example and legal right, racial injustice rose to fever pitch during the 1960s. The third and deadliest Ku Klux Klan (succeeding the Southern Klan of the late 1860s and the national Klan of the ...

To Kill All Day

Frank Kermode: Amis’s Terrible News, 17 October 2002

Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 306 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 224 06303 0
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... is ordinarily used of sentences that stop before they end, and grammarians, from Ben Jonson to Martin Amis, normally disapprove of such sentences; but aposiopesis may be allowed as a structural feature, as when Yeats ends his ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ by claiming that he cannot continue his roll call of Gregory’s friends because ‘a ...

The President’s Alternate

Fredrik Logevall: Bobby Kennedy, 18 May 2017

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon 
by Larry Tye.
Ballantine, 624 pp., £15.58, May 2017, 978 0 8129 8350 0
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... do without risking the anger of Southern governors or segregationists in Congress. Mistrustful of Martin Luther King and keen to keep the civil rights leader at arm’s length from the president, he lapped up Hoover’s claims that King had ties to the communists. But King, a discerning judge, always suspected that Robert Kennedy could be brought round, and ...

Brief Shining Moments

Christopher Hitchens: Donkey Business in the White House, 19 February 1998

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 
by Taylor Branch.
Simon and Schuster, 746 pp., $30, February 1998, 0 684 80819 6
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-64 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 416 pp., September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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The Dark Side of Camelot 
by Seymour Hersh.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £8.99, February 1998, 9780006530770
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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson , Bobby Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade 
by Jeff Shesol.
Norton, 591 pp., £23.50, January 1998, 9780393040784
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The Year the Dream Died 
by Jules Witcover.
Warner, 512 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 446 51849 2
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Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot 
by Jerry Zeifman.
Thunder's Mouth, 262 pp., $24.95, November 1996, 9781560251286
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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Howard, 740 pp., £23.50, September 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection 
edited by David Barrett.
Texas A & M, 906 pp., $94, June 1997, 0 89096 741 5
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Taking Charge: The Johnson Whitehouse Tapes 1963-64 
edited by Michael Beschloss.
Simon and Schuster, 624 pp., £20, April 1998, 0 684 80407 7
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Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes 
edited by Stanley Kutler.
Free Press, 675 pp., $30, November 1997, 0 684 84127 4
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The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-63 
by Philip Nash.
North Carolina, 231 pp., £34.70, October 1997, 0 8078 4647 3
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... a bullet the day after he asked to read the Newman despatches. Let us further suppose that Lyndon Johnson, finding the plans already in place, had authorised the invasion of Cuba. There would now be a herd of revisionist historians and propagandists, all assuring us that if he had lived, ‘Jack’ would never have allowed the CIA and the Joint Chiefs to do ...

Diary

Giles Gordon: Experimental Sideshows, 7 October 1993

... is even a case to be made for Giles Gordon being the only true inheritor of the late B.S. Johnson’s mantle as one of the serious Anglicises of French modes.’ Heady stuff. No British reviewer or critic would write like that now. Many younger readers (older readers too) have no awareness of B.S. Johnson’s ...

Not Making it

Stephen Fender, 24 October 1991

The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and how it changed America 
by Nicholas Lemann.
Macmillan, 410 pp., £20, August 1991, 0 333 56584 3
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... that state education could not be ‘equal’ if it was also ‘separate’, through a decade of Martin Luther King’s non-violent marches, boycotts and sit-ins against Southern segregation, American Presidents were forced at last to pay serious attention to the African American. If Eisenhower was reluctant and Kennedy visionary, it was Lyndon ...

Crowing

Michael Rogin, 5 September 1996

Imagineering Atlanta 
by Charles Rutheiser.
Verso, 324 pp., £44.95, July 1996, 1 85984 800 1
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... to open the games. Only Americans – Dennis Mitchell after winning a 100-metres heat and Michael Johnson after taking the 200-metre gold – puffed out their chests and pulled their jerseys to display the national emblem. Only Americans accused an Irish swimmer of using drugs when she won the Olympic gold. Only an eliminated American boxer, Fernando ...

Sinking Giggling into the Sea

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris, 18 July 2013

The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson 
edited by Harry Mount.
Bloomsbury, 149 pp., £9.99, June 2013, 978 1 4081 8352 6
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... part. At its erratic best, however, it remains a worthwhile show. In fact the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle went so far a couple of years ago as to call Ian Hislop, on the basis of his weekly appearances there, ‘the single most influential voice in modern British politics’. He was not paying a straightforward compliment. ‘Week in and week ...

Buckets of Empathy

James Wood, 30 March 2000

On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Yale, 294 pp., £18.95, October 1999, 0 300 07991 5
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... left in the innocence bank; we are rich on suspicion. In literature, contemporary examples abound. Martin Amis, for instance, offers his own brief allegory of the writer’s modern suspicion in The Information. Richard Tull, a novelist, hears birds singing in his garden, and thinks, mournfully: ‘say birds were just parrots and learned their songs from what ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, 22 April 2021

... and wants more than prison for Hampton is J. Edgar Hoover, played with splendid unction by Martin Sheen. The first piece of action in the film shows O’Neal pretending to arrest some billiard players in a bar. He flashes a badge that is supposed to prove he is employed by the FBI, but all he really wants to do is create enough havoc to allow him to ...

Policing the Police

Fredrick Harris: The Black Panthers, 20 June 2013

Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party 
by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin.
California, 539 pp., £24.95, January 2013, 978 0 520 27185 2
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... Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin trace the origins, rise and decline of a mostly misunderstood political movement. Angela Davis, who was an ally of the Panthers and a member of the Communist Party, complains that she is better remembered as a 1970s fashion icon, known for her large ...

Bevan’s Boy

R.W. Johnson, 24 March 1994

Michael Foot 
by Mervyn Jones.
Gollancz, 570 pp., £20, March 1994, 0 575 05197 3
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... because of his ‘career of sordid and unrelieved money-making’), he gravitated to Kingsley Martin’s New Statesman, but Martin let him go after a while. ‘He’s a good fellow and not a bad journalist, but not A plus,’ Martin remarked, the problem being that, though ...

What if he’d made it earlier?

David Runciman: LBJ, 5 July 2012

The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power 
by Robert Caro.
Bodley Head, 712 pp., £30, June 2012, 978 1 84792 217 5
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... Lyndon Johnson always believed he would be president. As a boy in Texas, growing up in poor and sometimes desperate circumstances, he told anyone who would listen that he was headed for the White House. He mapped out a plan to get there from which, as Robert Caro writes, ‘he refused to be diverted.’ It meant first establishing himself in state politics, then winning a seat in the House of Representatives, then moving up to the Senate and finally to the highest office ...

Downhill

David Marquand, 19 September 1985

Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy 1945-51 
by Alec Cairncross.
Methuen, 527 pp., £35, April 1985, 0 416 37920 6
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The Politics of Recession 
by R.W. Johnson.
Macmillan, 275 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 333 36786 3
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The Labour Government 1974-79: Political Aims and Economic Reality 
by Martin Holmes.
Macmillan, 206 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 333 36735 9
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New Jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism 
by Elizabeth Durbin and Roy Hattersley.
Routledge, 341 pp., £16.95, March 1985, 9780710096500
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... upward blip in 1987 or 1988 – the curve of Labour support has gone downwards ever since. R.W. Johnson’s often perverse, sometimes brilliant and always provocative volume of essays provides a splendid point of departure for exploring the connections between these two themes. The best one is a discursive enquiry into the cultural roots of British ...

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