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Hubert Humphrey: A Biography

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Hubert Humphrey was the consummate liberal politician of the second half of the twentieth century, evolving from charismatic mayor of Minneapolis to crusading U.S. senator to compliant vice president under the overpowering Lyndon B. Johnson--to defeated presidential hopeful. Here is the most complete and authoritative biography of Humphrey ever written. Based on over two Hubert Humphrey was the consummate liberal politician of the second half of the twentieth century, evolving from charismatic mayor of Minneapolis to crusading U.S. senator to compliant vice president under the overpowering Lyndon B. Johnson--to defeated presidential hopeful. Here is the most complete and authoritative biography of Humphrey ever written. Based on over two hundred interviews and access to his papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, it presents a portrait of a vivacious, complex man, the leading orator and most productive legislator of his age. The book opens with an account of what may have been Humphrey's finest hour, the 1948 Democratic National Convention, when the brash, young mayor of Minneapolis challenged Southern conservatives and committed his party to the civil rights laws that reshaped twentieth-century America. Here too is the story of Humphrey's failure to weather the contending passions and ambitions of the sixties, and of the humiliating bargain he made with Lyndon Johnson in accepting the vice-presidency in 1964. The author's dramatic account of this relationship highlights Johnson's ruthlessness and Humphrey's inability to see the catastrophic political consequences of his blind loyalty to the president. In Carl Solberg's vivid retelling, Humphrey's compassion and ambition, successes and ultimate failures, are placed in historical context and provide a vital source for the understanding of our times.


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Hubert Humphrey was the consummate liberal politician of the second half of the twentieth century, evolving from charismatic mayor of Minneapolis to crusading U.S. senator to compliant vice president under the overpowering Lyndon B. Johnson--to defeated presidential hopeful. Here is the most complete and authoritative biography of Humphrey ever written. Based on over two Hubert Humphrey was the consummate liberal politician of the second half of the twentieth century, evolving from charismatic mayor of Minneapolis to crusading U.S. senator to compliant vice president under the overpowering Lyndon B. Johnson--to defeated presidential hopeful. Here is the most complete and authoritative biography of Humphrey ever written. Based on over two hundred interviews and access to his papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, it presents a portrait of a vivacious, complex man, the leading orator and most productive legislator of his age. The book opens with an account of what may have been Humphrey's finest hour, the 1948 Democratic National Convention, when the brash, young mayor of Minneapolis challenged Southern conservatives and committed his party to the civil rights laws that reshaped twentieth-century America. Here too is the story of Humphrey's failure to weather the contending passions and ambitions of the sixties, and of the humiliating bargain he made with Lyndon Johnson in accepting the vice-presidency in 1964. The author's dramatic account of this relationship highlights Johnson's ruthlessness and Humphrey's inability to see the catastrophic political consequences of his blind loyalty to the president. In Carl Solberg's vivid retelling, Humphrey's compassion and ambition, successes and ultimate failures, are placed in historical context and provide a vital source for the understanding of our times.

30 review for Hubert Humphrey: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Hubert Humphrey is a man largely forgotten today. His common claim to fame is his before-his-time speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he called on his party to emerge into the “sunshine of human rights.” With Humphrey, these weren't just words; he truly believed in the cause, and was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, although most of the credit goes to Lyndon Johnson. But Humphrey, if he ever is mentioned now, is known as the man Hubert Humphrey is a man largely forgotten today. His common claim to fame is his before-his-time speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he called on his party to emerge into the “sunshine of human rights.” With Humphrey, these weren't just words; he truly believed in the cause, and was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, although most of the credit goes to Lyndon Johnson. But Humphrey, if he ever is mentioned now, is known as the man who narrowly lost the presidential election of 1968 to Richard Nixon. That the country would have been profoundly different had Humphrey won there can be no question, as he did not possess the paranoid and dark tendencies that ultimately envelope and destroyed Nixon. Why is Humphrey largely forgotten? Certainly, much of it is because he lost. But even in his own era, he was overshadowed by the likes of Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Adlai Stevenson. Carl Solberg focuses much of his narrative on Humphrey's time as Vice President, including the tumultuous year of 1968. Fortunately, he avoids getting bogged down too much in policy decisions, instead preferring to focus on main points, except where Civil Rights came into play, and being that area was a major concern for Humphrey, a thorough examination of his actions in regards to it is proper. And while Solberg does not skimp on discussing Humphrey's personality traits, his family makes only occasional appearances, especially his children. Solberg gets a few of his facts wrong. On page 161, he writes that, as of 1949, Johnson had served six years in the House of Representatives. Not so. Johnson won a special election in 1937 and began serving immediately, so he spent eleven years in the House. On page 265, he says that Harry Truman found out he was President via phone. That is also not so; that Truman was summoned to the White House via a phone call is true. But he was not informed of FDR's death until Eleanor Roosevelt told him in person. On page 214, he writes of Humphrey: “Denied the presidency, he proved himself the premier lawmaker of his generation.” Solberg states this as if it were a fact, but that is open to debate. Humphrey was a very good lawmaker by many counts, yet saying nobody was better than he was during his time in the Senate is questionable given how many laws that he failed to get passed. Humphrey really seemed to sell his soul to the devil in order to get the vice presidency. Reading some of the gushing notes that he wrote to Johnson in an effort to curry favor and stroke the latter's monumental ego leaves one feeling slightly nauseous. He sullied himself before Johnson in the vain hopes that one day he too could become president. Johnson used and mistreated Humphrey, starting in the Senate and continuing until Humphrey lost his bid for the presidency. Humphrey never had the financial standing to really make a strong run on his own, and his continual kowtowing to Johnson on the Vietnam War sapped him of any moral authority that he had gained on the Civil Rights issue. It is disappointing to read about a principled man sacrificing his principles for hoped-for political payoff in the future and to maintain the good graces of someone who viewed him as nothing more than a servant. Solberg really hits his stride as a biographer when he reaches the pivotal year of 1968. So many books have been written about that year and time period from many different perspectives: Nixon, Johnson, liberal commentators, conservative commentators, sociologists. But I have not ran across many books dealing with it from Humphrey's perspective. That he ran such a bad campaign, still naively clinging to the hope that not breaking with Johnson would be better than making a clean cut from his disastrous Vietnam policy, and yet almost beat Nixon is incredible. Humphrey was, by this point, not well-respected in the country, had no money, was attached to a very unpopular president, and lacked the charisma of someone like Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. Yet, a hard worker all of his life, he refused to give up and, although really too late to help him – especially after the ugly Democratic convention in Chicago – finally broke, somewhat, with Johnson. While Solberg writes a very good political biography of Humphrey, and talks much about his forgiving and friendly personality, the coverage of his family life is rather skimpy. His children rarely appear, and even his wife Muriel is left on the back-burner. Solberg concludes with a chapter analyzing Humphrey's life and career. It is good, but light on discussing how much his loyalty to Johnson damaged him politically and personally. The fact that Humphrey, when he died at sixty-six in 1978 of bladder cancer, was allowed to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol should tell people just how highly he was thought of and liked by others. But his dream of becoming president went unfulfilled as he just did not have the edge needed be ruthless towards his opponents. A good biography of an ultimately influential but unassertive man. Grade: B-

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    A good overview of the life of an unsung liberal hero who sacrificed his reputation on the altar of his presidential dreams. Humphrey went from an almost stereotypical small town upbringing to young mayor of Minneapolis to progressive crusader when he pushed the 1948 Democratic National Convention to adopt a strong civil rights plank, thereby aiding in Truman’s reelection and firmly putting the party on the side of equality. Responsible for Medicaid and Food Stamps, Humphrey worked across the A good overview of the life of an unsung liberal hero who sacrificed his reputation on the altar of his presidential dreams. Humphrey went from an almost stereotypical small town upbringing to young mayor of Minneapolis to progressive crusader when he pushed the 1948 Democratic National Convention to adopt a strong civil rights plank, thereby aiding in Truman’s reelection and firmly putting the party on the side of equality. Responsible for Medicaid and Food Stamps, Humphrey worked across the aisle with Republicans to push through the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Sadly, after losing the nomination to JFK in 1960, Humphrey decided his only path to the White House was to join LBJ’s ticket. LBJ bullied and mistreated him for 4 years; Humphrey swallowed his initial doubts and became a prominent cheerleader for the Vietnam War. His betrayal in the eyes of liberals doomed him to defeat in 1968. The book itself suffers from purple prose in places but that’s only fitting given the unique speaking style of Humphrey himself.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    A few days ago I was watching some old newsreel footage and it was Hubert Humphrey running for president where he emphasized his credentials as a man of the big cities. This in fact was where most of our domestic problems and it was essential to have a president who understood them. It was nice to see Humphrey agreeing with a particular view of mine. Since 1968 neither party has nominated someone who dealt with urban issues directly. It was as the reform Mayor of Minneapolis Minnesota that Hubert A few days ago I was watching some old newsreel footage and it was Hubert Humphrey running for president where he emphasized his credentials as a man of the big cities. This in fact was where most of our domestic problems and it was essential to have a president who understood them. It was nice to see Humphrey agreeing with a particular view of mine. Since 1968 neither party has nominated someone who dealt with urban issues directly. It was as the reform Mayor of Minneapolis Minnesota that Hubert Humphrey burst on the national scene with a passionate plea for a civil rights plank in the Democratic platform in 1948. The south walked out but the Democratic party has been all the better for it right up till now. Humphrey was running for US Senate that year and won. Another man who ran and won for Senate that year was Lyndon Johnson of Texas. Those two would have an interesting future. When Johnson became Majority Leader, Humphrey was a key player, his ambassador to the more liberal elements in the Democratic caucus. Where Humphrey was a voter and spokesperson for all kinds of issues most especially civil rights. It's impossible not to like Hubert Humphrey he comes across as such a decent soul. He was also not a rich man and sadly he came to prominence in an era when one started to need some big bucks to have political ambitions. In 1960 he came up against not just John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination for president but the Kennedy fortune and the contacts it brought them. Which in 1964 he made what turned out to be a devil's bargain with now President Lyndon Johnson when he took the Vice Presidential nomination and won with Johnson. When he along with 97 other colleagues in the Senate voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution did he know that was the road to the Vietnam quagmire war? As Vice President you are not your own man, he had to defend the Johnson policy. Did it so well and so eloquently it hung around him like a millstone when the war became unpopular. It gave him a near worthless nomination for president in 1968 and he still nearly won. Humphrey was back in the Senate in 1970 after two years absence and continued to speak vigorously and passionately for liberal causes. He made two half hearted runs in 1972 and 1976 for the White House. He died in 1978 liked by all who knew him. Humphrey was like Will Rogers in politics, there were few he didn't like even among opponents. He's someone worth getting to know and I guarantee you will like him when you do after reading Carl Solberg's informative biography.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James Burns

    I am a long time admirer of HHH. When He ran for President in 1968 against Pres. Nixon I was in the 5th grade and was Campaign manager for HHH, I went to the Different rooms trying to encourage kids to vote for in a mock election at Goliad elementary school. A couple of years later I was watching him on TV giving a lecture to the Yong Democrats of America on the U. S. Constitution Without notes, It inspired me the rest of my life to love American History and Government. This book was recommended I am a long time admirer of HHH. When He ran for President in 1968 against Pres. Nixon I was in the 5th grade and was Campaign manager for HHH, I went to the Different rooms trying to encourage kids to vote for in a mock election at Goliad elementary school. A couple of years later I was watching him on TV giving a lecture to the Yong Democrats of America on the U. S. Constitution Without notes, It inspired me the rest of my life to love American History and Government. This book was recommended by Robert A. Caro in The Years of Lyndon Johnson. This is good companion to the Robert A. Caro series on Johnson. This is a fascinating book on the life, Struggles and defeats and Victories in HHH's carreer. It shows american politics at its best and worst. It makes you realize how strong communism was in U.S. after WWII.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Ellenberger

    HHH was far more of a tragic figure than I knew; basically my knowledge of him came from the LBJ series ('liberal hero') and, well, the Metrodome. In truth, his story is somewhat sad, and while he did accomplish a great deal, he fell behind the times (hitched his wagon to the wrong horse, as they say) and lost it all. As for the writing, I was spoiled having just finished Caro's series, so I was disappointed. It was between a 3 and 4-star, but I'll round up. Worth a look.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Now i know a whole bunch of stuff about Humphrey I'm gonna forget in a couple weeks. Go Gophers!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Solomeno

    Carl Solberg's "Hubert Humphrey" is the definitive biography of the former mayor, senator, Vice President of the United State, and presidential candidate. Humphrey was one of the more important influences on American politics during the post-World War II era. He nearly defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Sadly, Mr. Solberg's 1984 book is one of the few book length, well researched accounts of his life. It was a great read. Then again, I am geeky enough to be interested in how a man on the left Carl Solberg's "Hubert Humphrey" is the definitive biography of the former mayor, senator, Vice President of the United State, and presidential candidate. Humphrey was one of the more important influences on American politics during the post-World War II era. He nearly defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Sadly, Mr. Solberg's 1984 book is one of the few book length, well researched accounts of his life. It was a great read. Then again, I am geeky enough to be interested in how a man on the left flank of a largely conservative Democratic Party approached the pinnacle of political success. The answer, as I took it away, was that Humphrey possessed a blend of genuine kindness and astute judgment. People liked Hubert. He was a good person. A criticism, if I can offer any, is that Mr. Solberg seems to agree with his subject's politics. As a result, the book often overlooks or mentions but minimalizes Humphrey's serious errors (i.e., support of the Vietnam War, inability to build a strong political organization in 1968).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chris Dean

    Very comprehensively written biography.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stevefk

    Well, I'm in the minority here, but i gotta be me. I was bored stiff with most of this book. Part of the problem was that the author went on endlessly with dry descriptions of primary workings and committee assignments that only a political insider (i would think) could find remotely interesting. To a political outsider, the author makes the whole political process look dull dull dull. The other main problem with this book is that workaholics with a passion for neatness are not interesting Well, I'm in the minority here, but i gotta be me. I was bored stiff with most of this book. Part of the problem was that the author went on endlessly with dry descriptions of primary workings and committee assignments that only a political insider (i would think) could find remotely interesting. To a political outsider, the author makes the whole political process look dull dull dull. The other main problem with this book is that workaholics with a passion for neatness are not interesting people. Humphrey is shown here as having next to no interest in anything other than work. He reads nothing, has no real relationship with anyone, he just slaves away at work. This is not a character that can carry a near 500 page book. The only parts that i found interesting were his interactions with Lyndon Johnson and his experiences with soviet leaders. That stuff seemed human. The rest was a tedious portrait of a robot. It's the story of a life I'm glad I never lived. Maybe that comes off the way it does because of the choices the author makes in presenting Humphrey, but i doubt it. There just seems nothing there beyond being a workaholic. No doubt Humphrey was an important American and did some great things for his country. This book was just way too long and bogged down with forgetable details to be appealing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Simon Woodrup

  11. 4 out of 5

    Phil Leversedge

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Lesley

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Lombardo

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  15. 5 out of 5

    Al

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Egan

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

  18. 4 out of 5

    F. Gibbons

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rody

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dan Flaherty

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  22. 4 out of 5

    Zouhair Ait Benhamou

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter Somerville

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura Miller

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steven Lowe

  27. 4 out of 5

    Randy Morrison

  28. 4 out of 5

    RUOK

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael McGuinness

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mary Dupont

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