Top critical review
A dry take on a fascinating time
Reviewed in the United States on December 4, 2005
I sped through last year reading all three mammoth books in Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning LBJ biography series, and found them an incredibly readable, detailed portrayal of a man who was half megalomaniac, half incredibly gifted politician, a complex American Shakespearean character whose presidency crumbled into self-induced tragedy. Caro hasn't written the final book in his series yet concentrating on LBJ's presidency, so I decided to check out a competing LBJ biography by Dallek focusing on those years. And it's solid history, with great insight into LBJ's character and the disastrous decisions he made in Vietnam that undermined all the powerful social changes he achieved in civil rights and Medicare. Yet "Flawed Giant" is also kind of a slog, which Caro's books weren't. I can't quite put my finger on it, but Dallek lacks the fluid prose, deft research into place and era, and storytelling talent that Caro brought to LBJ - I was able to read hundreds of pages about dry as toast subjects like congressional redistricting and vote tallies and found them compelling reading under Caro. Yet here, I ended up getting bored silly by Dallek's bland recitation of the ups and downs of Vietnam, which you think would be interesting stuff. Dallek is a bit more even-handed in his appreciation of LBJ than Caro, but it just all felt a little too much like work. Guess it goes to show that it's as much in the storyteller as it is in the story. I'll be eagerly awaiting Caro's take on this same era, whenever it comes out.