28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another superb entry in a masterful series
Thirty years have passed sine the publication of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, the first of what Robert Caro envisioned would be a three-volume biography of America's 36th president. This, his fourth volume, ends in the first months of his presidency, and his assertion that this is the penultimate volume strains credulity given the thoroughness he has...
Published 21 months ago by Mark Klobas
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard Core - an Historians History
If you are into "hard core" American politics and events some 60 years ago, then invest the time and enjoy this book. My reservation was with the 'passage of time' so much detail diminishes, not enhances, an understanding of the man and his times. And it is part of a massive biography; with three preceding volumes totalling over 2,500 pages! Here the period 1958 to 1964...
Published 17 months ago by Benjamin Girth
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another superb entry in a masterful series,
Thirty years have passed sine the publication of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, the first of what Robert Caro envisioned would be a three-volume biography of America's 36th president. This, his fourth volume, ends in the first months of his presidency, and his assertion that this is the penultimate volume strains credulity given the thoroughness he has covered Johnson's life even before reaching his time in the White House (with a third of this book's 700+ pages chronicling just the first four months as president). Yet Caro has sacrificed brevity for a detailed portrait of irony in his depiction of a master of political power who finds himself deprived of it.
Caro begins with Johnson at the height of his success in the Senate. Still only in his second term, he had taken the weak position of Senate Majority Leader and turned it into the second most powerful position in national politics, thanks largely to his enormous personal and legislative abilities. But Johnson had his eye on an even larger prize - the presidency itself, an office he had aspired to for decades and which in 1960 seemed to many to be his for the taking. Yet Johnson hesitated to commit himself to the race, fearing the humiliation of a defeat. This created an opening that John F. Kennedy eagerly exploited. With his brother Robert collecting commitments in the west - a region critical to Johnson's chances - Kennedy outmaneuvered the Texas senator, demonstrating just how completely Johnson had misjudged his opponent.
Yet for Johnson a new opportunity presented itself when Kennedy offered him the vice presidential nomination during the convention. For Kennedy, the choice was an obvious one, as Johnson's presence on the ticket offered Democrats a chance to reclaim the Southern states lost to Dwight Eisenhower in the two previous elections. Johnson's reasons for accepting are less clear, though Caro describes Johnson's realistic assessment of his odds as vice president of assuming the presidency in his own right, as well as his belief that "Power is where power goes," a statement that demonstrates his conviction that he would retain his control over the Senate even as vice president.
Johnson was soon disabused of this notion. Blocked from maintaining his position in the Senate's Democratic caucus and denied any real responsibilities by the Kennedys, Johnson seemed to wither from the absence of power. For all his failings it is hard not to sympathize with the man in these chapters, who works to ingratiate himself with the Kennedys through expensive gifts and obsequious letters. Yet flattery and jewelry did little to improve his standing in the administration, while the growing scandal surrounding his protégé Bobby Baker was exposing the vice president to increased scrutiny of his business dealings. Though Caro doesn't press his case any further than the evidence allows, his description of the mounting investigations in the autumn of 1963 suggests that Johnson's position on the ticket the next year was in jeopardy as he left with the president for a campaign trip to Texas.
All of this changed in Dallas in a matter of minutes. Caro's chapters on Kennedy's assassination and Johnson's assumption of the presidency are among the best in the book, as they convey the sense of bewilderment, tragedy, and sadness which stained that day. Here we see Johnson's abilities employed to their fullest to reassure a shocked nation of the smooth transition of power. Within days of Kennedy's funeral the new president took charge of his predecessor's stalled legislative agenda, working to pass a tax cut bill and civil rights legislation that few expected would become law. Here Caro exploits the numerous telephone conversations the president secretly recorded to depict Johnson's use of political power, as he threatened, cajoled, and wooed senators and representatives in an effort to attain his goals. The book ends in March 1964, with Johnson fully settled into his office and with the challenge before him of election in his own right, a challenge that - if successful - would complete his journey from the Texas Hill Country to the highest office in the land.
As with his previous volumes Caro has provided a meticulous, painstaking study of the life and career of one of the most fascinating men ever to occupy the presidency, a book that measures up to the high standard set by his earlier works. His errors are few and are easily forgiven in a narrative that engages the reader fully and manages to make the minutiae of legislative maneuvering into entertaining reading. Given Caro's track record, it may be too much to hope that the next volume - final or not - will be published more quickly than this one, but regardless of how long it takes, if it is anywhere near as good as this one it will be well worth the wait.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A winning formula,
The highpoint in this superb book is the day of the assassination. Whilst I don't believe for one minute that Johnson had any involvement, I had never realised just how amazingly fortuitous was its timing for him, and how close he came to being ruined politically had it not occurred. The rapid editing between the motorcade in Dallas and the Senate investigation into Bobby Baker (and, by association, Johnson) in Washington, creates an entirely new and incredibly tense narrative of these events.
As for the rest of the book, whilst it is standard (excellent) Caro, for the first time in The Years of Lyndon Johnson I became aware of a formula emerging; Johnson down (either ill or depressed) followed by Johnson revved up and sweeping aside all opposition by the force of his energy, personality and political genius. This is not a major problem and would not put me off reading the next installment, however, it is an issue.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Giant Among Biographies,
Without a doubt one of the greatest biographies I have ever read and one that completely changed my view of the "Flawed Giant" Lyndon Johnson. Caro's writing is a brilliant mixture between eruditely explicating even the most obscure, minute details of legislative battles while also providing truly inspiring writing on the cause for civil rights and other causes. Caro is unabashedly liberal, which actually makes him a perfect biographer for one of the most contradictory and powerful (personally and politically) men in American history. Just like the trade unions, civil rights leaders, and other left-leaning groups during Johnson's rise to power and early presidency, Caro's prose renders excellently the mixed, suspicious view we are meant to take of Lyndon Johnson. Caro, throughout the whole Years of Lyndon Johnson series, does not try very hard to hide his liberalism (this is especially seen for instance in his discussion of the history of the Senate in Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Vintage)). However, viewing Johnson through a liberal perspective is one of those times where we get a far more fascinating picture of him than through some attempt to be "objective." The reason why is Caro seems incredibly conflicted about Johnson, and it is these mixed feelings from the left that partly defined Johnson's political life. Afterall, this is the same man who indulged the very worst of anti-Communist paranoia and served the interests of Big Oil, destroying the career of liberal hero Leland Olds and his pursuit of providing cheap electricity to even the most rural areas of America (What is even worse, he himself did not even believe Olds was any sort of threat to the United States, but taking him down would ensure greater power for Johnson, see the previous, equally brilliant volume Master of the Senate). However, this is also the same man who, once he had power, became "the greatest champion that black Americans and Mexican-Americans and indeed all Americans of color had in the White House, the greatest champion they had in all the halls of government. With the single exception of Lincoln, he was the greatest champion with a white skin that they had in the history of the Republic. He was to become the lawmaker for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed." Caro's riveting, inspiring, prose engrosses anybody who possesses even a measure of sense of social justice, so vividly does he portray the fight for civil rights and the roots of Lyndon Johnson's compassion and LBJ's visceral, burning hatred of poverty, ignorance, and inequality.
One piece of the book that particularly stands out is Caro's analysis of Robert Kennedy and his bitter feud with Johnson. Caro captures quite well not only Robert's personality but ably compares it to the urbane, unflappable John Kennedy and the larger than life, elemental Johnson. One thing that I find interesting about Robert and Lyndon is how very similar these two were. As becomes clear through not just Passage of Power but the earlier volumes of the Years of Lyndon Johnson, Johnson was capable of both immense compassion and harshness. Robert Kennedy was precisely the same way, a man so ruthless, driven by his utter loathing of corruption and dishonesty, especially in causes he believed in (like labor), that in his crusade to root out mafia elements in unions (and specifically his vendetta against Jimmy Hoffa) he became known as "Capitol Hill's resident fascist." However, he could also be capable of an incredible amount of kindness (his visit to Jackie Kennedy after her miscarriage, for instance, even though they hardly knew each other before then, an act Jackie never forgot.). Johnson and Kennedy were two people where the Democratic Party and indeed Washington were just too small for the two of them. It is towards the Kennedys that Johnson showed some of his very worse traits: His sycophancy, cruelty, insensitivity, etc. But it was his insecurity about the Kennedys, indeed his fear, that also inspired him to achieve a truly miraculous presidential transition that was so smooth that we might forget how easily Kennedy's assassination could have led to global catastrophe. These two men brought out the best and worst in each other, and Caro paints a portrait of these two complex but monumental figures of mid-century liberalism. Caro does seem to spend a very large amount of time on Robert Kennedy, but I think this is quite warranted for he was a fundamental factor to Johnson's early presidency. Caro does something similar with the "Georgia Giant" Richard Russell in Master of the Senate: there were stretches of pages about Georgian politics that seemed to have little to do with Lyndon, but we needed to know that info to understand Russell's historic decision to essentially choose Johnson as the one who would lead the South's "readmission" to the Union by becoming President. It's quite common sense, really; to know the life of a person it's also important to know about the most important people in the subject's life. However obvious this idea may be, however, biographers can quite easily mess it up. Not Caro, however, who understands Johnson as part product of Southern and National politicians, part last hope of a disgraced father done in by the cruelty of Texas politics, and part astounding personal power and ego.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and, along with Caro's other equally outstanding volumes of the Years of Lyndon Johnson, received a far more nuanced, complex picture of Johnson than I had ever had before. It was said of LBJ that there were as many Lyndons as people who knew him. That may be true, but Caro does an incredible job discovering the real Johnson, the ambitious, sometimes ruthless politician who also possessed a massive compassion for the dispossessed, "The Johnsons of Johnson City," a compassion beat into him by the sun and iron of his days working on the railroad tracks in the Hill Country of Texas, working alongside blacks, Mexicans, and the others left out of the American Experiment at that time. Kennedy, Roosevelt, and other icons of the American Left came to their liberalism through intellectual study; Johnson came to it through the blisters in his hands and teaching the children of Mexican immigrants English in a run down schoolhouse. Caro understands this uniqueness of Johnson in the political pantheon better than anybody, and this monumental work made me far better understand this most enigmatic and conflicted giant of the 20th Century. Bravo to Robert Caro, and I cannot wait to read the last volume when it is released.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping detail - fascinating insights,
Robert Caro has produced a gripping and detailed account of the traumatic few years covering the Kennedy/Johnson period. This book includes fascinating insights of the character and make up of an unusual and talented man, driven relentlessly by upbringing and background and gifted with extraordinary powers of persuasion and tolerance. The reader is left to make up his or her own mind about the degree of sincerity or cunning employed to achieve the pinnacle of power in the USA. The various strands of cultural and political bigotry are clearly brought out in the open, and there are surprises revealed by the research into the characters of some of the key players. Some delicious little insights and vignettes intrigue the reader.
A book not to be missed by anyone fascinated by power struggles, or by those hungry to read the detail of events surrounding the Jack Kennedy tragic assassination.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good, but depressing read,
This book is the fourth in the series of (probably) five books about Lyndon Johnson's life (and America in his lifetime). While this was still a very good book, I'm not sure that this was the greatest book in the series.
My problem with the book focuses on the time covered. It basically covers the time from Johnson's decision to sort of run for the Presidential nomination in 1960 (against JFK) to the time 100 days after Kennedy was shot when Johnson had guided the heart of the Kennedy program through congress.
It isn't a bad book, but my grumble is the length of time he spends on the last 100 days. Approximately 350 or so are spent on those 100 days (which works out at 3.5 a day). The result was, interesting, but a little repetitive.
Let me stress though, the book is still good. If you want to find out how Johnson was treated by the Kennedys, and how he managed to guide Kennedy's program through, this is the book for you
5.0 out of 5 stars Senate power broker,
A very good read you will have needed to read the previous volumes to appreciate the complexities of LBJ whose rise and ultimate accession to President after Dallas are wonderfully described by the author
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece,
This is the only volume of Caro's series on Johnson that I have read and it is a masterful study of a fascinating political operator. The insights into the less than wholly democratic processes of the US political machine at the time, both at County level in Texas and in Washington, are fascinating, terrifying and hilarious all at the same time. Johnson's mastery was supreme until he lost it when faced with the final challenge, achieving the Presidency; how he was out-manoeuvred and then humiliated by the Kennedy's is surprising, moving, even shocking. But then his ascent back to mastery after Kennedy's death in Dallas, is portrayed as the triumphant re-emergence of the political genius. The political vignettes of the other players and historical interludes are fascinating and worthy of separate books in their own right. The portrayal of JFK, RFK, the Cuban missile crisis, the growing challenge of Vietnam, are all so much more than an interesting backdrop to one man's story, they form the threads of this intricate fabric of a fascinating time in history and one man's central role in it. The human elements of how he helped ordinary people, how he flattered and manipulated the powerful, his homespun charm winning over Chancellor Erhard, and even his weaknesses, of which he had many, are all fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to me was how it was LBJ who unlocked the Washington political log-jam that was blocking the Civil Rights movement, in a way that even JFK hadn't been able to achieve with all his charisma. This is a great biography of, one has to say despite all his faults, a great man.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant continuation of his life of one of America's toughest yet vulnerable politicians,
This review is from: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Paperback)
I am half way through it at the moment. Johnson, having had three miserable years as Vice-President has just succeeded JFK thanks to the appalling Lee Harvey Oswold and immediately reverts to the powerful and self-confident character shown by Robert Caro in his third book about Lyndon in "Master of the Senate" which I was given for my 70th birthday and found absolutely gripping.
Caro is a genius. I certainly hope to be alive and well when he finishes the story which,of course, will be all about Lyndon's terrible days as leader of his country during the Vietnam War. I expect to see if I can get, though not immediately, the first two books in the sequence.As well as describing Johnson's career as Vice-President then President in this book Caro gives a chilling but enthralling description of Jack Kennedy's struggle with bad health and wartime injuries and paints a fascinating picture of Bobby Kennedy,devoted father , kind and sympathetic to other children but harsh to adults unless they were in his team.
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting,
This review is from: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Paperback)
It's not often I wish I could give a book more than 5 stars. This is a superbly written, nuanced account of 5 crucial years in the life of Lyndon Johnson and, indeed, in the life of the United States, some of them better known as the Kennedy years. Caro gives us political biography as political thriller - there were times when, as with Mantel's Wolf Hall, although I knew what was going to happen, it felt as though I didn't. And Caro is so very, very good at psychological analysis - I was going to say we get a warts and all portrayal, but Caro actually goes beyond even that to show Lyndon Johnson in all his human complexity. It is difficult to believe that a book about this so over-told period in American history, with so much detailed information on political manoeuvring, a 600+ page book on such a short period, could be so engrossing, so absorbing that when you look up from it, you have to reorientate yourself. I lived through the LBJ years and brought away the memory of an apparently overbearing bully and the relentless chants `hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today' during Vietnam - now I am aware of a supremely astute and crafty political operator - someone who could actually deliver on the rhetoric, a poor boy who finally got his dream and endeavoured to create a country which was genuinely for the people, all the people. The overbearing bully is there, and none of Johnson's flaws are glossed over, but Caro, buttressed by years of painstaking and exhaustive research, shows us the man who was prepared to take on what he was told were lost causes, because, as he said `Well, what the hell's the presidency for?' And that is what this book is all about, as Caro says in the final paragraph of his introduction: `...the story of Lyndon Johnson during the opening, transition, weeks of his presidency is a triumphant story, one in which it is possible to glimpse the full possibilities of presidential power - of that power exercised by a master in the use of power - in a way that is visible at only a few times in American history.' The Kennedy men had the Harvard brains, but not the political nous. This is a book everyone should read, and it is uncomfortable reading because it makes us confront hows how ideals can almost certainly only be realised by a readiness to wheel and deal, a willingness perhaps to let principles slide, the necessity of working within moral grey areas - it should be gift-wrapped and presented to every new leader of men wherever they may be.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
Brilliantly captured a momentous period of history - parts read like a thriller.Gave me a whole new perspective on LBJ
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The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro (Paperback - 7 May 2013)
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