Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson’s Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965
By Michael Beschloss
Simon & Schuster, 2001, 474 pp.
This is the second volume in a trilogy of snippets from Lyndon Johnson's vast archive of secret White House recordings. Think of them as snapshots in an album embossed with the gigantic monogram "L.B.J." Policy issues like Vietnam and civil rights are background settings to the pictures of the man, who is caught in all of his public poses and most of his private ones. Beschloss is a knowledgeable, assured, and dispassionate collector. Many of the pictures are squalid. With an apparently limitless self-regard, L.B.J. taped himself practicing the most unscrupulous forms of American national politics, which in that era could sink very low indeed. The depictions of Vietnam are torturous. They show an administration getting into hotter and hotter water, anguishing but adapting to the changing temperature degree by degree, slowly boiling itself alive.