On The White House Watch
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it comes to relating his own history, the biographer who unearthed
amazing stuff about LBJ is decidedly less open. "We'll see how resistant
I am," he laughs when asked for various details of his personal
life. "Knowing what a good researcher can come up with puts you
on your guard."
grew up in Brooklyn in the midst of the Depression and the throes
of the New Deal. His father was a traveling salesman who sold business
machines, his mother a genteel woman who was born in Romania and
emigrated to the United States from England. Dallek and his father
were not especially close; a few years ago, describing his feelings
about Lyndon Johnson, the biographer told an interviewer, "He reminds
me of my father C quite an overbearing and narcissistic character."
it was not an unhappy childhood. The neighborhood was largely Jewish
and, despite rising anti-Semitism, Dallek never felt in the minority.
"There was a wonderful Americanization that took place there," he
Sunday, Dallek and his friends would pack a lunch and take the subway
to Ebbets Field and sit in the bleachers for 50 cents. "I lived
and died with the Brooklyn Dodgers," he says. He still recalls the
thrill of seeing Jackie Robinson play his first game.
the same time, Dallek was also developing an interest in history
and literature. He loved reading about historical figures, and there
was constant talk of politics in his Brooklyn neighborhood. "It
was always there and I soaked it in," Dallek recalls. "Everybody
was a staunch FDR supporter. He was seen as a liberal and very supportive
to minorities C Jews and Catholics and Italians. There was a keen
sense that Roosevelt was bringing ethnic groups into the mainstream."
The strong connection Dallek felt as a youngster to "the great president
of the century" inevitably influenced his decision to write a biography
of Roosevelt years later.