- Historic Sites
The Postwar Years 1945 To 1974
November/December 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 6
by Neil Sheehan (1988; Vintage). To understand how the apparently invincible United States military could have been so badly humbled in the Vietnam War, Neil Sheehan made a meticulous investigation of the life and career of one of its most capable officers, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. Like Sheehan, then a newspaper correspondent, Vann arrived in Vietnam in 1962, early in the game in terms of U.S. involvement. Courageous, confident, and wholly capable, Vann was the living embodiment of the American cold warrior of the early 1960s; he had many thousands of counterparts, both in Vietnam as the buildup continued and in Washington. However, as Sheehan describes so skillfully in
by Robert A. Caro (Vintage). Though Robert Caro is a biographer, he doesn’t merely write about celebrated lives. Instead he fills in a broad canvas with faces, institutions, and places, and somewhere in the center of it all, he sets the crucial figure that affected all the rest and was, of course, affected by them. To date, Caro has completed three volumes on (or all around) his greatest subject, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The Lyndon Johnson Caro presents is not always nice; in fact he is downright crude a lot of the time. For that reason, Caro has been charged with having something against the thirty-fifth President. As a matter of fact, Caro started the project in the 1970s, when, having just finished a book about Robert Moses, whom he did not admire, he decided to write next about someone he did. He chose Johnson. The disturbing truth about Johnson and his methods was as shocking to Caro at first as he makes it to the reader. Inasmuch as any historian can be, Robert Caro is intently and admirably objective about his subject. He manages to show that at least through 1959, Lyndon B. Johnson was probably the single most effective person working in Washington, overseeing the passage, in 1957, of the first new civil rights law since Reconstruction.
by Garry Wills (1970; Mariner).
As part of the explanation of Nixon’s peculiar character, Wills cites the President’s habitual seeking out of enemies, surely the mark of a man who helped create the Cold War and was himself created by it. There is a footnote, however: When Nixon’s “enemies list” was made public in the wake of the Watergate investigations, Garry Wills was on it.