Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President. By Betty Boyd Caroli. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 465 pp.
Betty Boyd Caroli made her mark in 1987 with First Ladies (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Now in its fourth edition (First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama [New York: Oxford University Press, 2010]), the book catapulted her to the front rank of the newly developing field of First Ladies studies. After Inside the White House: America's Most Famous Home: The First 200 Years (New York: Abbeville Press, 1994) and a collective biography entitled The Roosevelt Women: A Portrait in Five Generations (New York: Basic Books, 1999), Caroli has turned to a powerful presidential couple in Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President. It is instructive that the subtitle is not "The Partnership that Made a President." Caroli privileges the story of Bird (as she was called), who comes off as eminently more likable and often more capable than Lyndon. Yet, because the focus is on the marriage, it is Bird, the wife, the "fixer, enabler, smoother-of-feelings" (p. 87), the "sounding board, collaborator, and emotional stabilizer" (p. 264), who predominates. Bird "sold" Lyndon to skeptics (p. 86), healed the human wreckage after his tantrums, and "found common ground with everyone" (p. 99), including his several mistresses whom "she incorporated ... into her day without showing an ounce of bad will" (p. 329). Bird was, Caroli asserts, "essential ... to his success" (p. 104).
Their courtship bargain explains why Bird chose such a life: "Lyndon would fulfill her ambition of being matched with a man as charismatic and as comfortable with power as her father, while taking her away from him, and ... Bird would provide Lyndon with a ferocious devotion equal to his mother's and the emotional ballast he needed to achieve his ambition" (p. 67).