Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973; Vietnam: The Early Decisions; Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection; Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964; Letters to Kennedy; Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its G

In This Review

Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973

By Robert Dallek
Oxford University Press, 1998
754 pp. $35.00
Purchase

Vietnam: The Early Decisions

Edited by Lloyd C. Gardner and Ted Gittinger
University of Texas Press, 1997
228 pp. $35.00
Purchase

Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection

Edited by David M. Barrett
Texas A & M University Press, 1997
869 pp. $94.00
Purchase

Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964

Edited by Michael Beschloss
Simon & Schuster, 1997
591 pp. $30.00
Purchase

Letters to Kennedy

By John Kenneth Galbraith
Harvard University Press, 1998
158 pp. $24.95
Purchase

Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy

By Arnold R. Isaacs
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997
236 pp. $29.95
Purchase

With the opening of private papers and the release of government documents, books on the Vietnam War continue to pour from the presses, and the blood-dimmed tide shows few signs of receding. Dallek's engaging work, which continues his biography of LBJ begun in Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960 (1991), is at once admiring and distrustful of a figure who rose at times to great achievement but also, according to the author, entertained fears that bordered on the clinically paranoid. Dallek struggles heroically to come to terms with this contradictory figure but in the end confesses a certain bafflement, quite as if he had been subjected for years to the famed "Johnson treatment" and is still unsure whether he should be charmed or appalled.

Vietnam: The Early Decisions is a handsomely produced volume of essays from some of the best Vietnam scholars, based on a conference at the LBJ Library, that focuses on the great question of whether John F. Kennedy, had he lived, would have trod further onto the dark and bloody ground. No consensus is reached here, although the preponderant view casts grave doubt on the admissibility of the slender hearsay evidence that Kennedy intended to get out after the 1964 elections. Two collections of original documents -- Barrett's compendium covering the years from 1963 to 1968 and Beschloss' superbly edited and vastly entertaining White House tapes -- bear closely on this question, for they show Johnson expressing all the doubts, and more, that Kennedy had held yet nevertheless concluding that he had no alternative but to avoid a shattering defeat. The witty and agreeable effusions of John Kenneth Galbraith, ambassador to India from 1961 to 1963, support a similar point, for even though Galbraith was strongly opposed to any steps that would commit American troops to combat, he was in favor of expressing "our determination not to let the Vietcong overthrow the present government."

The various ways in which the war continues to haunt its survivors is explored with great sensitivity and insight by Isaacs, who ranges widely -- among veterans, the political elite, and Vietnamese who either conquered or fled -- in his search for the elusive yet undoubtedly powerful significance of the war in national memory.