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On The White House Watch

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Fall 1996

On The White House Watch
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Oxford was not his cup of tea, so to speak. "It was a little bit stuffy for a transplanted Californian," he explains in his New York-accented voice. AThey're very preoccupied with tradition. You go to high table' for dinner. You have to wear your academic gown. You can bring your mistress but you can't bring your wife C unless a colleague invites her." Dallek chuckles at his charmingly delivered jest.

ABob has a joke a minute," confirms UCLA history professor Richard Weiss, who has known Dallek since their graduate school days at Columbia University. "He's full of wonderful anecdotes and great stories. But in his work he's very judicious. He's clearly a major 20th-century American biographer."

It took him years of slogging away in archives, of poring over oral histories and National Security files, but today, at the age of 62, Dallek is in the front ranks of presidential scholars that include Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough. His 700-page tome, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945, garnered the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 1980. "It's a tour de force, a standard work on the subject," says Pulitzer Prize-winning JFK biographer Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "and one not likely to be superseded for a very long time."

Still, Dallek is undoubtedly best known for Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960, the first of a two-volume biography of the 36th president. Researched and written over seven years, the book was widely praised for its careful scholarship and evenhanded portrayal of the controversial, larger-than-life politician.

Dallek's expertise on the American presidency and foreign policy, not to mention his snappy prose style, has earned him a regular spot in the Los Angeles Times' "Opinion" section. (ARoss Perot's decision to run again for president is about as surprising as yesterday's weather report," he cracked in a recent column.) And his new book, a pointed study in how the 41 men who occupied the White House either succeeded or failed, is clearly well-timed to contribute to the debate on leadership bound to accompany the election.

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