Companions in crisis: Johnson, Nixon, and the historiography of presidencies in turmoil.

Author:Cunningham, Sean P.
Position:Book review
 
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A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson. Edited by Mitchell B. Lerner. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2012. 604 pp.

A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Edited by Melvin Small. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2011. 630 pp.

The only disappointing thing about either of these volumes is the undeniable reality that as time marches on, so will historians' interest in and discussion of the lives and legacies of both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In and of itself, that interest is by no means a bad thing. But were it not so, these latest additions to the Blackwell Companions to American History series would unquestionably stand for quite a long time as the definitive historiographical syntheses on presidential politics in the United States from 1963 to 1974. They may very well stand as such, anyway. To put it more plainly, historians Mitchell B. Lerner and Melvin Small--both distinguished scholars of the Johnson and Nixon eras--have each compiled and edited a minor masterpiece. These volumes effectively trace the mountainous but ever-shifting scholarship related to the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, respectively, providing judicious balance when called for and fresh interpretation when possible. Each book will be of use to both graduate and advanced undergraduate history students alike, not to mention political scientists, professional historians in and out of the academy, as well as pundits, journalists, and political analysts of all stripes.

Both books feature a collection of 29 essays, written by many of the nation's leading political scholars, covering virtually every topic related to these two giants of postwar American history. Though organized with a semblance of chronology in mind, each of the individual essays in these two books is distinctly thematic and entirely useful as a stand-alone contribution. Most of the essays are framed by the relevant historiography, though a few of the essays simultaneously offer a stronger sense of narrative flow than do others. Almost without exception, the essays are carefully written, analytically balanced, and as comprehensive as should be expected. Several contributors also incorporated recently declassified documents, recorded or transcribed phone conversations, and other previously unutilized archival records from both presidential administrations, drawing conclusions from long-standing bodies of scholarship while at the same time suggesting potential new avenues of research. Each...

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