They've All Gone to Look for America; Cassell's Dictionary of Modern American History (Cassell & Co, Pounds 20) by Peter Thompson. Reviewed by Ross Reyburn

Article excerpt

Byline: Ross Reyburn

Few Britons would think that the odd-looking Texan Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) did more for the American civil rights movement than the charismatic President John F Kennedy (1917-1963).

But facts is facts and Oxford University American history lecturer Peter Thompson in his invaluable reference book neatly outlines how Johnson's achievements in implementing his vision of the Great Society far outweighed Kennedy's rhetoric.

While Kennedy exercised 'great caution' in the civil rights area, his successor Johnson by 1965 was spending $25.6 billion on welfare compared to the $10 billion figure in 1960.

This expenditure changed living standards particularly for black Americans. Their numbers living below the poverty line dropped from 55 per cent in 1960 to 27 per cent in 1968 while black unemployment fell by 34 per cent and black family incomes rose by 53 per cent. Unfortunately for Johnson, his escalation of the Vietnam War obscured his domestic achievements.

Oddly the biography of President Clinton, whose successor will be known when the American presidential election reaches its climax next week, has no mention of his major efforts to secure peace on the world stage in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. Nor are his successful US economic policies referred to.

But the book offers an invaluable guide to American history written with admirable clarity.

The information is often commendably detailed. We find, for example, American railroads began operating in 1830 and by 1840, 3,328 miles of track had been laid, more than three times the European total.

The appendix contains two invaluable argument settlers - a map showing every American state with its date of creation and a list of every American president. …