Friday, November 6, 2015

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President

For close to twenty years now I have been fascinated by the First Ladies. It started when I designed my Redwork quilt of the First Ladies, Remember the Ladies. I read book after book about these women. They are the most extreme example of thousands of women who marry men in the public eye, women who find their private lives invaded, their public image weighed and scrutinized, who watch their spouses deified and abused. Politician's wives, pastor's wives, those married to celebrities or business icons, are all married to more than a man.

Lady Bird from my quilt Remember the Ladies
One of the most fascinating presidents was Lyndon Baines Johnson. Bill Moyers called him "thirteen of the most exasperating men I ever met." He was charming and he was abusive; a womanizer who loved his wife; he believed in equality, education, and giving the poor a chance; if you got on his bad side he'd snub you for ever. The best thing he ever did in his life was to marry Lady Bird. She could soothe the savage beast. She knew how to deal with his depressions. She mended fences and kept political alliances intact. She managed their business and made them wealthy.
First Lady scholar Betty Caroli's book Lady Bird and Lyndon is a deep exploration of the relationship between Lyndon and Lady Bird. The contention is that without Bird behind him Lyndon may  never have been able to achieve his goals. Some biographers have deplored Lyndon's treatment of Lady Bird and wondered why she never stood up to Lyndon. Caroli puts their relationship in perspective and helps us to understand Lady Bird's motivations and appreciate her inner strength and surety of her husband's love.

Early on in the book I realized that Lyndon's mood swings sounded Bi-Polar in origin. I had not encountered that understanding before. During his presidency LBJ had major triumphs but also faced criticism and hatred that left him immobilized and dejected. Ever the workaholic, his health suffered, and knowing his time was swiftly running out LBJ spiraled into an angry depression.

The book covers the Johnson's families history and background, explaining their personality traits that made them 'right' for each other. Lady Bird was bright and ambitious, expected by her classmates to be the 'next Halliburtan.' When LBJ met Bird he immediately started the pressure for marriage. They had known each other a month when she agreed to marry him. They both knew Bird was the stronger, and she was going to rescue him with her love.

Theirs was a complex relationship, lived in the public eye. It makes for addictive reading.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President
Betty Caroli
Simon & Schuster
Publication November 3, 2015
$29.99 hard cover
ISBN: 9781439191224
"The coach, the advisor, the steady soothsayer to an erratic man--in these pages, Lady Bird Johnson bursts from history's shadows to her rightful place at the heart of a stirring story...Caroli establishes the prominence of a gripping and mysterious relationship--one of the critical intimacies of the 20th century. This is a tremendous work of scholarship and storytelling." Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Power of Two
Remember the Ladies, an original Redwork quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske