The Last Two Great Presidents

Godfrey Hodgson

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May 26, 2015
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300180503

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A firsthand observer weighs the achievements—and failures—of two fabled American presidents  

As a young White House correspondent during the Kennedy and Johnson years in Washington, D.C., Godfrey Hodgson had a ringside seat covering the last two great presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, two men who could not have been more different. Kennedy’s wit and dashing style, his renown as a national war hero, and his Ivy League Boston Brahmin background stood in sharp contrast to Lyndon Johnson’s rural, humble origins in Texas, his blunt, forceful (but effective) political style, his lackluster career in the navy, and his grassroots populist instincts. Hodgson, a sharp-eyed witness throughout the tenure of these two great men, now offers us a new perspective enriched by his reflections since that time a half-century ago. He offers us a fresh, dispassionate contrast of these two great men by stripping away the myths to assess their achievements, ultimately asking whether Johnson has been misjudged. He suggests that LBJ be given his due by history, arguing that he was as great a president as, perhaps even greater than, JFK.
The seed that grew into this book was the author’s early perception that JFK’s performance in office was largely overrated while LBJ’s was consistently underrated. Hodgson asks key questions: If Kennedy had lived, would he have matched Johnson’s ambitious Great Society achievements? Would he have avoided Johnson’s disastrous commitment in Vietnam? Would Nixon have been elected his successor, and if not, how would American politics and parties look today? Hodgson combines lively anecdotes with sober analyses to arrive at new conclusions about the U.S. presidency and two of the most charismatic figures ever to govern from the Oval Office.

Godfrey Hodgson was a White House correspondent during the Kennedy and Johnson years. He taught at Oxford University and lives in Oxfordshire, U.K.

“A deeply detailed, fascinating characterization of two men, a country, and an era.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Godfrey Hodgson has written a provocative and perceptive (and affectionate) history of his time and ours, arguing that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson—battered and humbled by multiple crises at home and around the world—were the last presidents who genuinely believed the United States could make life better for our people and for the world.”—Richard Reeves, author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power

“Stylish and absorbing from the first page to the last. As a young reporter Godfrey Hodgson covered the two presidents who are his concern, and he has spent the intervening half-century reflecting on the two men's places in the pantheon of modern American leaders—and on what might have been. The result is a lucid, concise, wonderfully opinionated book.”—Fredrik Logevall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam

“Hodgson has long had a deserved reputation as a shrewd and knowing observer. JFK and LBJ has an authenticity and freshness that should command attention and trigger lively and often partisan conversations. The mixture of the autobiographical and the historical makes it all the richer.”—Mark Lytle, Bard College

“The British have a remarkable record of sending journalists to Washington whose insights are more astute and nuanced than those of the locals, but even in this class Hodgson stands apart. His latest biography may be his best, for no one has written of the JFK/LBJ relationship with more penetration and sensitivity. Gripping portraits, lucid analysis unfettered by the conventional cant, and keen historical judgments make this a compelling book.”—Philip Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History
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