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On The White House Watch

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Fall 1996

On The White House Watch
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When 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."

Dallek 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."

Still, 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 recalls.

On 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.

At 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.

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