A First Lady With All the Small Graces and a Lot of Grit

Jan 09, 2013

Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History
by Michael L. Gillette

reviewed by Dwight Garner

[published in the New York Times on January 8, 2013]

On 1934, on their first date, Lyndon Baines Johnson asked Claudia Alta Taylor, the woman who would become known as Lady Bird Johnson, to marry him. He was 26. She was 21.

They’d been driving around all day. He’d felt he’d been struck by lightning. She was less sanguine. “I just sat there with my mouth open, kind of,” she reports in a crisp and absurdly endearing new book, “Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History.” She adds, “I was far from sure I wanted to know him any better.”

President Johnson’s impetuousness came to mind when a copy of this volume made its way to my kitchen table a few weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to write about it. Other books out this month seemed more pressing. The fourth volume of Robert Caro’s titanic biography of Johnson, published just last year, looms in the rearview mirror. Hey, hey. Enough L.B.J.

Something about the cover, however, kept calling to me. The photo on the book’s front displays its subject in a deck chair, swiveling around to look at an observer. Her gaze is so eager and engaged that you can’t help wanting to take a seat beside this commanding distillation of forward-thinking Southern womanhood. You wish to go where she is going.

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