Books: The Labyrinth That Is L.BJ.

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The Labyrinth That Is L.BJ.

A VERY PERSONAL PRESIDENCY by Hugh Sidey. 305 pages. Atheneum. $5.95.

After reviewing a contingent of Viet Nam-bound Marines in California, Lyndon Johnson strode purposefully toward what he thought was his helicopter. "That's your helicopter over there, sir," said an officer, steering the President toward a different craft. "Son," replied Johnson evenly, "they are all my helicopters."

In this sprightly study of the 36th President of the U.S., Author Hugh Sidey demonstrates that Johnson has been more than just possessive in his conduct of the office—he has been frequently devious, overbearing and suspicious as well. "What are you trying to do to me?" he cried once, when an aide had failed him. "Everybody is trying to cut me down, destroy me." Incongruously, there has also been an almost pathetic yearning for affection. "The most stimulating thing in my kind of work," he once said, "is the feeling that the people care about me." Sidey is TIME'S White House correspondent and writes a column on the presidency for LIFE. He has filed about 2,000,000 words on the career and character of L.B.J., and yet, he says, "It is impossible to find your way through the labyrinth of Johnson's mind."

Sidey's attempt makes compelling reading nonetheless. Neither a chronological record nor an academic analysis, this "book of glimpses" is an intensely personal look at a baffling and often infuriating figure "whose great energies and desires even he is sometimes at a loss to explain." Sidey shows how deeply the hard times in the Texas hill country affected Lyndon Johnson, how he maintains the conviction that "the world is simply Johnson City in megatons." Sidey also describes how Johnson's struggle for wealth and power left him with an "incipient chip on the shoulder," how his laudable legislative career shaped—and in some ways misshaped—his presidency.

Cloakroom & Corridor. In Sidey's view, Johnson has never fully comprehended the difference between legislative and executive power, and his Administration has suffered for it. As Senate Majority Leader, he developed "a box-score mentality"—a sort of "Hey, hey, L.B.J., how many bills did you pass today?" approach that emphasized statistics at the expense of inspiration. His greatest failing, however, has been in the art of communicating. "Language may be the most important tool that a President has for governing this sprawling nation," says Sidey, and while Johnson is superbly versed in the arcane language of cloakroom and corridor, he has never learned how to impart his visions for a better America to the people.

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