A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson. Edited by Mitchell B. Lerner. Blackwell Companions to American History. (Malden, Mass., and other cities: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Pp. xii, 604. $207.95, ISBN 978-1-4443-3389-3.)
This wonderfully conceived and skillfully executed collection of historiographical essays is an essential starting point for anyone hoping to understand the evolution of scholarly thinking on the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. The volume's twenty-nine entries begin with three essays discussing the southern context of LBJ's life and career, his career in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and the vice presidential years. The volume concludes with a trio of assessments of LBJ's legacies at home and abroad by Sidney M. Milkis, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, and Andrew L. Johns. In between, almost uniformly excellent pieces cover nearly every conceivable subject. Scholarly debates over civil rights and the War on Poverty get extended treatment, of course. But so, too, do relatively neglected domestic subjects such as aid to education, conservation, immigration, and Mexican Americans. The war in Vietnam is the subject of four essays, including a useful account of how Vietnamese commentators have interpreted the subject. Also getting full attention are areas of the world usually overshadowed by Vietnam: Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Cold War rivals China and the Soviet Union. Mark Atwood Lawrence's important entry examines the Johnson administration's response to worldwide problems such as the environment, hunger, disease, population control, and religion.
Many contributors not only survey the literature but also provide concise, stand-alone essays on the historical trajectories of their respective subjects. Examples include Edward R. Schmitt's "The War on Poverty," Larry DeWitt and Edward D. Berkowitz's "Health Care," Jeff Roche's "LBJ and the Conservative Movement," and Andrew Preston's "Decisions for War" on the escalation of the Vietnam conflict. The contributors perform two other useful services. They conclude their essays by telling readers what still needs to be done--which, in most cases, is a lot. And because many of the authors are members of the second or third wave of 1960s scholars, they bring to their subjects a fresh-from-the-field perspective on the current state of research.
Some contributors argue that, despite nearly a half century of scholarship, LBJ still has not gotten all the credit (or in some cases, all the blame) he deserves. After surveying the literature on the "urban crisis" of the 1960s, David Steigerwald concludes that "Johnson demonstrated more commitment to American cities than any other president" (p. 248). Coauthors DeWitt and Berkowitz note not only LBJ's role in the passage of Medicare and Medicaid but also his unacknowledged role "in the evolution of America's federal efforts in health care research and disease prevention" (p. …