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"I didn't know a damn thing about poverty and didn't want the job," Sargent Shriver would later recall, of his conversation with the president, “and I told him so.” But it was no use: Lyndon Johnson had fixed on Shriver to lead his newly declared war on poverty, and that was that. But could poverty really be eradicated? And if so, how? It fell to the reluctant recruit to figure that out, and fast. Johnson had given him just six weeks to turn a dauntingly ambitious idea into a legislative program, and somehow get it through a deeply change-resistant Congress.

Contributing historian: Joshua Zeitz. Learn more at

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