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The award-winning, New York Times bestselling historian considers the vast array of triumphs and failures of America’s modern presidents that paved a path to Donald Trump, offering an understanding of our current moment and hope for a way back to true leadership.
The struggle to preserve the Republic has never been easy or without perils. The rise of conflicting political parties, which the founders opposed, and President John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts repressing First Amendment rights made Franklin’s observation at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention—“a republic, if you can keep it”—seem prescient.
In the twentieth century, America endured numerous struggles: economic depression, World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran-contra scandal, the war in Iraq—all of which gave rise to demagogues, as did the growth and reach of mass media. But this wasn’t the Founding Fathers’ vision for our leadership. The resistance to putting a demagogue in the White House survived the anti-Communist agitation of the 1950s and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. But the latter opened the way for Richard Nixon’s election in 1968 and Watergate, which again tested our democratic institutions and the rule of law. Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 moved Vice President Gerald Ford, his successor, to declare, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
But was it? Donald Trump’s 2016 election has presented a new challenge. How did past politics and presidential administrations pave the way for this current assault on American democracy? Our nation’s history provides reassurance that we will restore our better angels to government. Yet it must be considered that earlier administrations and public outlook facilitated the rise of such an un-presidential character as Trump in the first place. In How Did We Get Here?, Robert Dallek considers a century of modern administrations, from Teddy Roosevelt to today, shining a light on the personalities behind the politics and the voters who elected each. His cautionary tale reminds us that the only constant in history is change, but whether for good or ill the choice is Americans’ to make.
Robert Dallek succeeds as no other biographer has done in striking a critical balance -- never shying away from JFK's weaknesses, brilliantly exploring his strengths -- as he offers up a vivid portrait of a bold, brave, complex, heroic, human Kennedy.
“We come to see in FDR the magisterial, central figure in the greatest and richest political tapestry of our nation’s entire history” —Nigel Hamilton, Boston Globe
“Meticulously researched and authoritative” —Douglas Brinkley, The Washington Post
“A workmanlike addition to the literature on Roosevelt.” —David Nasaw, The New York Times
“Dallek offers an FDR relevant to our sharply divided nation” —Michael Kazin
“Will rank among the standard biographies of its subject” —Publishers Weekly
A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker
In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations?
For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower.
Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions—perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.
Now Dallek has condensed his two-volume masterpiece into what is surely the finest one-volume biography of Johnson available. Based on years of research in over 450 manuscript collections and oral histories, as well as numerous personal interviews, this biography follows Johnson, the "human dynamo," from the Texas hill country to the White House. We see LBJ, in the House and the Senate, whirl his way through sixteen- and eighteen-hour days, talking, urging, demanding, reaching for influence and power, in an uncommonly successful congressional career. Then, in the White House, we see Johnson as the visionary leader who worked his will on Congress like no president before or since, enacting a range of crucial legislation, from Medicare and environmental protection to the most significant advances in civil rights for black Americans ever achieved. And we see the depth of Johnson's private anguish as he became increasingly ensnared in Vietnam.
In these pages Johnson emerges as a man of towering intensity and anguished insecurity, of grandiose ambition and grave self-doubt, a man who was brilliant, crude, intimidating, compassionate, overbearing, driven: "A tornado in pants." Gracefully written and delicately balanced, this
The plainspoken man from Missouri who never expected to be president yet rose to become one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century
In April 1945, after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the presidency fell to a former haberdasher and clubhouse politician from Independence, Missouri. Many believed he would be overmatched by the job, but Harry S. Truman would surprise them all.
Few chief executives have had so lasting an impact. Truman ushered America into the nuclear age, established the alliances and principles that would define the cold war and the national security state, started the nation on the road to civil rights, and won the most dramatic election of the twentieth century—his 1948 "whistlestop campaign" against Thomas E. Dewey.
Robert Dallek, the bestselling biographer of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, shows how this unassuming yet supremely confident man rose to the occasion. Truman clashed with Southerners over civil rights, with organized labor over the right to strike, and with General Douglas MacArthur over the conduct of the Korean War. He personified Thomas Jefferson's observation that the presidency is a "splendid misery," but it was during his tenure that the United States truly came of age.
"Robert Dallek brings to this majestic work a profound understanding of history, a deep engagement in foreign policy, and a lifetime of studying leadership. The story of what went wrong during the postwar period…has never been more intelligently explored." —Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Team of Rivals
Robert Dalleck follows his bestselling Nixon and Kissenger: Partners in Power and An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 with this masterful account of the crucial period that shaped the postwar world. As the Obama Administration struggles to define its strategy for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Dallek's critical and compelling look at Truman, Churchill, Stalin, and other world leaders in the wake of World War II not only offers important historical perspective but provides timely insight on America's course into the future.
In this epic dual biography, one of our most distinguished scholars—the bestselling author of An Unfinished Life—probes the lives and times of two unlikely leaders whose partnership dominated American and world affairs and changed the course of history
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were two of the most compelling, contradictory, and important leaders in America in the second half of the 20th century. Both were largely self-made men, brimming with ambition, driven by their own inner demons, and often ruthless in pursuit of their goals.
Tapping into a wealth of recently declassified documents and tapes, Robert Dallek uncovers fascinating details about Nixon and Kissinger’s tumultuous personal relationship—their collaboration and rivalry—and the extent to which they struggled to outdo each other in the reach of foreign policy achievements. He also brilliantly analyzes their dealings with power brokers at home and abroad, including the nightmare of Vietnam, the brilliant opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the disastrous overthrow of Allende in Chile, and growing tensions between India and Pakistan, while recognizing how both men were continually plotting to distract the American public’s attention from the growing scandal of Watergate.
Authoritative, illuminating, and deeply engrossing, Nixon and Kissinger provides a shocking new understanding of the immense power and sway these two men held in affecting world history.
Fifty years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, presidential historian Robert Dallek, whom The New York Times calls “Kennedy’s leading biographer,” delivers a riveting new portrait of this president and his inner circle of advisors—their rivalries, personality clashes, and political battles. In Camelot’s Court, Dallek analyzes the brain trust whose contributions to the successes and failures of Kennedy’s administration—including the Bay of Pigs, civil rights, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam—were indelible.
Kennedy purposefully put together a dynamic team of advisors noted for their brilliance and acumen, including Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and trusted aides Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger. Yet the very traits these men shared also created sharp divisions. Far from being unified, this was an uneasy band of rivals whose ambitions and clashing beliefs ignited fiery internal debates.
Robert Dallek illuminates a president deeply determined to surround himself with the best and the brightest, who often found himself disappointed with their recommendations. The result, Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House, is a striking portrait of a leader whose wise resistance to pressure and adherence to principle offers a cautionary tale for our own time.
But Johnson was also a representative figure. His career speaks volumes about American politics, foreign policy, and business in the forty years after 1930. As Charles de Gaulle said when he came to JFK's funeral: Kennedy was America's mask, but this man Johnson is the country's real face.
In Lone Star Rising, Robert Dallek, winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his study of Franklin D. Roosevelt, now turns to this fascinating "sinner and saint" to offer a brilliant, definitive portrait of a great American politician. Based on seven years of research in over 450 manuscript collections and oral histories, as well as numerous personal interviews, this first book in a two-volume biography follows Johnson's life from his childhood on the banks of the Pedernales to his election as vice-president under Kennedy. We see Johnson, the twenty-three-year-old aide to a pampered millionaire Representative, become a de facto Congressman, and at age twenty-eight the country's best state director of the National Youth Administration. We see Johnson, the "human dynamo," first in the House and then in the Senate, whirl his way through sixteen- and eighteen-hour days, talking, urging, demanding, reaching for influence and power, in an uncommonly successful congressional career.
Dallek pays full due to Johnson's failings--his obsession with being top dog, his willingness to cut corners, and worse, to get there-- but he also illuminates Johnson's sheer brilliance as a politician, the high regard in which key members of the New Deal, including FDR, held him, and his genuine concern for minorities and the downtrodden.
No president in American history is currently less admired than Lyndon Johnson. Bitter memories of Vietnam have sent Johnson's reputation into free fall, and recent biographies have painted him as a scoundrel who did more harm than good. Lone Star Rising attempts to strike a balance. It does not neglect the tawdry side of Johnson's political career, including much that is revealed for the first time. But it also reminds us that Lyndon Johnson was a man of exceptional vision, who from early in his career worked to bring the South into the mainstream of American economic and political life, to give the disadvantaged a decent chance, and to end racial segregation for the well-being of the nation.
In a new Afterword to his definitive history, Dallek vigorously and brilliantly defends Roosevelt's policy. He emphasizes how Roosevelt operated as a master politician in maintaining a national consensus for his foreign policy throughout his presidency and how he brilliantly achieved his policy and military goals.
Dodd was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937, arriving in Berlin with his wife and daughter just as Hitler assumed the chancellorship. An unlikely candidate for the job--and not President Roosevelt's first choice--Dodd quickly came to realize that the situation in Germany was far grimmer than was understood in America. His early optimism was soon replaced by dire reports on the treatment of Jewish citizens and his pessimism about the future of Germany and Europe. Finding unwilling listeners back in the U.S., Dodd clashed repeatedly with the State Department, as well as the Nazi government, during his time as ambassador. He eventually resigned and returned to America, despairing and in ill-health.
Dodd's story was brought into public prominence last year by Erik Larsen's New York Times bestseller The Garden of Beasts. Dallek's biography, first published in 1968 and now in paperback for the first time, tells the full story of the man and his doomed years in the darkness of pre-War Berlin.