Start Reading Now
For Next Season’s Campus at the Cultural Center
It seems like everybody is talking about sharing good books to read, and it looks like this is going to be the summer for really getting to it, so the Campus at the Cultural Center has a few suggestions to add to your reading pile.
Our new program, Dining with the Presidents, was a sell-out success this season, and those attending who had read A J Baime’s “The Accidental President” enjoyed his talk the most. Get a jump on next year’s speakers by reading some of their award-winning books on US Presidents, recent and past:
Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” is a best-seller that not only won prizes from historians, but also won the Edgar award for Best Fact Crime. It looks at the assassination of James A Garfield, whose time in office was so short (four months) that it can hardly be judged, but brilliantly conveys the diverse personalities of the President, and the assassin and the doctor, who were equally responsible for Garfield’s death. Medical treatment in 1881 was still ignorant of the cause of infection and the mistreatment of the wound by Dr. Bliss was fatal. This book is full of vignettes of the Americans who rallied to help the suffering President — Alexander Graham Bell invented an early x-ray machine to find the bullet, and John Wesley Powell created an air-conditioning system for the White House sickroom — but it is at its best in presenting a universally admirable, self-made man who is felled by madness and misinformation.
Mark Updegrove wrote “Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency” using the full resources of the Johnson Library and Museum, of which he was the Director, and he brings Johnson compellingly to life through the stories and recollections of those who were with him as well as the transcripts of his actual (and sometimes highly florid) words. LBJ’s presidency is often under-appreciated and largely misunderstood but Updegrove describes him as “flawed, yes, and not always good, but great”. His sweeping legislative agenda transformed modern America — in civil rights, education, health care, immigration — but he is remembered most for his failed policy in Vietnam. As the long shadow of Vietnam recedes, a new view of Johnson’s domestic initiatives in Medicare, Voting Rights immigration and environment is overdue.
Evan Thomas has written a number of books on various presidents, but we will ask him to focus on “Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World,” an examination of Ike’s foreign policy and how he kept the US out of a major war during the eight years of his Presidency. This was no mean feat, given the Hungarian uprising, the Suez Canal crisis, Chinese shelling of Quemoy, Laos and Vietnam, but Thomas uses Eisenhower’s skills at card games to explain his capacity for concealment, deception and secrecy. The use of the CIA, covert operations and U-2 spying enabled the president to appear disengaged, even weak, when he was in fact confident of what actions were merited. The detailed, engaging picture of Ike’s personality brings him vividly to life, and underscores that his “greatest victories were the wars he did not fight”.
Each of these authors will appear at Ocean Reef next season for an evening of Presidential presentation, a specially menu-ed dinner, and a lively Q & A. The Cultural Center brochure will have full details. Until then, add these books to your list, as well others written by the same historians and be fully prepared for a lively evening.