Power Play

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Power Play

"The Great Society" by Robert Schenkkan - A Reading List

Lyndon Johnson served as president during a tumultuous time in United States history. A masterful politician, Johnson ascended to to the office suddenly and unexpectedly, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and presided over immense changes brought about during the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and his own ambitious social policy agenda. Arena Stage's current production of The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan explores this moment in Johnson's presidency as he struggles to maintain his relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., keep his political opponents in check and complete a raft of an impossibly ambitious political agenda. Use this reading list to learn more about Johnson's life and political career.

The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Caro's epic, four-part political biography is a thorough exploration of Johnson's full political journey, starting with his early life in Texas. The Passage to Power, in particular, illuminates the most frustrating and the most triumphant period of his career
: 1958 to 1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as senate majority leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a vice president in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the time it took an assassin's bullet to reach its mark.
Lyndon B. Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The great writer of history Goodwin was herself a member of his White House staff where she soon became personal confidante to Johnson. In the years before his death he revealed himself to her as he did to no other, and she crafted a biography that takes us through the vast landscape of Johnson's political and personal life: from his childhood, dominated by an indulgent mother and a hell-raising politico father, through his early political victories and the ideals that inspired them.

The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years by Joseph Califano
Written by one of Johnson's closest advisors, Califono's account takes us into the Oval Office as the decisions that irrevocably changed the United States were being crafted to create the ambitious Great Society. Califano uncorks LBJ's legislative genius and reveals the political guile it took to pass the laws in civil rights, poverty, immigration reform, health, education, environmental protection, consumer protection, the arts and communications. 

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow
Schenkkan's play takes us into Johnson's relationship with Dr. King and how that relationship influenced his presidency. With unrestricted access to King's personal papers and government documents, Garrow traces Dr. King's transformation from the young pastor of a modest church into the foremost spokesperson of the civil rights movement. This is a powerful portrait of a man at the epicenter of one of the most dramatic periods in our history.

People's University: 1968-2018
The year 2018 is the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year that saw great change and upheaval in Washington, D.C., as well as the country at large. DC Public Library is participating in a year of events commemorating this history. Our research guide can orient you toward resources that will provide context to a play like The Great Society, as well as to your own understanding of a tumultuous era in history. The guide contains books, movies, online resources and an online exhibit about Dr. King's legacy in Washington, D.C.