4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Masterful History And Biography!
, 5 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Paperback)
I took up "Master Of The Senate" on the recommendation of a state senate majority leader. I began the book with some skepticism because I did not like Johnson when he was president and I feel that his reputation has deteriorated since then. Long before completing this book I was very grateful for the recommendation. In it, author Robert A. Caro treats the reader to a work equally great as biography and history. He does an excellent job in revealing Johnson's character and accomplishments in the context of the history in which he lived.
"Master Of The Senate" is the third volume in Caro's biography of LBJ. It deals primarily with his years in the Senate from his election to elevation (if that is the proper term) to the vice-presidency. It portrays a man who was repulsive and clever, ill but indefatigable, obsequious and ruthless, loved and hated, respected and feared, but always successful.
Caro gives the reader an eye opening history of the Senate leading to the condition in which Lyndon Johnson found it in 1949. Although primarily covered in earlier volumes, Caro gives the reader an insight into the ups and downs LBJ endured on his way to the Senate. On a personal basis he portrays Johnson as an incredibly crude man, an open womanizer who demeaned Lady Bird while playing on the loneliness and vanity of The Powers of the Congress. After wondering how Johnson had any success in politics, the reader is summoned to awe inspiring admiration of his accomplishments.
Assimilating himself into the Southern caucus, LBJ ingratiated himself to Sam Rayburn and Sen. Richard Russell, two single, lonely men longing for a son figure to take make their lives whole. They were to be his powerful patrons who would advance his career to heights not open to them.
Just as the quest for the presidency was Johnson's sole goal during his Senate career, so the reporting of this quest is Caro's theme throughout the book. The pursuit of the presidency presented Johnson with his greatest challenge. A Son of the South, he had to build on his Southern base while distancing himself from it. While doing the bidding of the Southern caucus he had to destroy its power by changing Senate seniority rules and passing the first Civil Rights bill in over 80 years. Sections of the book detail how he put together a coalition which stripped the bill of its significance and then obtained its passage. His use and abuse of both Southern sponsors, like Russell, and Northern liberals, such as Hubert Humphrey, demonstrate a skilled and ruthless operator.
One test I apply in assessing a book is whether it leads me to want to read more. "Master Of The Senate" aces this test. I now want to read the rest of the series as well as other books about Johnson and other national political actors who shared his stage. Even more than before, I know, "In my heart", that Barry was right, but Robert A. Caro has made me want to know more about Lyndon B. Johnson.
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