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Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Volume 2) Paperback – 12 Nov 1992

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (12 Nov. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712698892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712698894
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Like its predecessor this is a wonderfully detailed, magnificently readable study that gives us not only Johnson's character but also a vivid picture of America in the 1940's" (Literary Review)

"Readers of Robert Caro's Means of Ascent are in for a white-knuckle hair-raising tale...riveting and explosive" (Time)

"Uputdownable...as a compulsive as any Hollywood thriller" (Evening Standard)

"His depiction of Texas is as brilliant as his account of Lydnon Johnson's driven soul...This is a richly rewarding book" (New Statesman & Society)

Book Description

The second instalment in Robert Caro's multi-award-winning and bestselling biography of Lyndon Johnson, spanning a pivotal era in American history

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the second book in Robert Caro's Magnus Opus 4 volume biography of President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ). Although not as long as his first weighty tome it focuses on LBJ's life from America's eventual entry into the Second World War leading up to and including his second run for a Texas Senate seat in 1948.

I believe that Caro added an introduction where he recounts LBJ's conversion to civil rights to remind the reader that he did do some good as this book provides no redeeming features to a corrupt distasteful character.

Despite his tub thumbing attitude regarding `serving with the boys' in the coming war, he tried to wrangle out active service and managed to serve on the front line in California, partying and continuing one of his affairs whilst his wife worried about where he was. His one day as an observer on a bombing raid amazingly led to an award of a medal by MacArthur, who no doubt was trying to curry favour with one of Roosevelt's favourite congressman (the pilot et. al. did not win anything!). In later life LBJ elaborated this one day into a distinguish war time career. Through his long-suffering wife he built a radio business through abusing his government contacts and influence, but the focus of the book was his senate race against Coke Stevenson.

Carro depicts Coke Stevenson as the ideal cowboy all American/Texas hero. Although you know the outcome you cannot help rooting for this fellow. LBJ eventually won through throwing the money at the campaign which was funded through the Texas business interests he had garnered massive public sector contracts during the New Deal. When this did not work he won through blatant outright corruption.

Coke did try to fight the outcome through the courts but failed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Caro's book opens with a look forward to Lyndon Johnson as President - the plus side on civil rights and the minus side on Vietnam - and certainly made me hope he'll live long enough to write the chronicle of those years of LBJ as president.

Readers of other volumes of this biography - I have read volumes 4 and 1 - will know what to expect. Painstaking research over many years; and flowing narrative; convincing judgements about Johnson, good and bad. And much to give the reader pause for thought.

If I feel just slightly less enthusiastic about this volume it is because ultimately not quite enough happens. The first part of the book documents Johnson's record in the war years and his becoming a millionaire. The second part his race for the Senate in 1948. Having lost in 1941 through corrupt practices, this time he exploits corrupt practices to make sure he wins - going the extra mile in corruption as necessary to achieve his goal.

As with other volumes, this book doesn't just tell us about Johnson. I found particularly rewarding the story of Coke Stevenson, Johnson's opponent in the 1948 race and the true victor of it, a genuinely heroic figure for whose 'happy ending' I felt very grateful. And at one point Robert Hamer, who comes out of retirement briefly to help Coke Stevenson try to prove electoral fraud. He has been wounded 17 times in his life as a Texas lawman, and twice left for dead. He has also killed 53 men. And in his later 60s still clearly much large than life - and much larger than John Wayne.

I look forward to reading volume 3.
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Format: Paperback
This is superb. Skip the childhood stuff - Caro summarises Vol 1. Jump in with Lyndon in 1942, a 3rd term US representative, who had risen to influence on FDR's coat-tails, and through control of the Democrat's donations from Texan oil. Now with better audited accounts, and having just lost his first Senate race, he returns to Washington a frustrated man. He had promised voters he would rush to the front line when the US entered the war, but delays - getting in a bit of adultery on the way - until his apparent cowardice threatens his future electoral chances. He wrangles a congressional investigatory trip, joins one bombing raid as an observer, and for the rest of his life portrays this single action as a brave fighting campaign in the Pacific. After the war he makes a fortune peddling political influence into broadcasting licences held in his wife's name.

And then the meat of the book - "the 87 votes that made history". How he stole the 1948 senatorial primary from Coke Stevenson, the most honest politician in Texas. He did it by flying around in a helicopter, by portraying his opponent, a genuine friend of poor farmers, as in the pockets of business, the place where Johnson himself really lay, and finally by buying votes. Texan politicians had been doing the latter for years, but Johnson stole more, and more brazenly, than anyone before. Despite all this, and Johnson's shocking treatment of his wife and underlings, Caro somehow makes us care about the outcome, as he leads us through the dramatic post-election intrigues, all the way to the US Supreme court ruling, that installed Johnson as senator. How could such a man have gone so far? Caro credits energy, charisma and ruthlessness. Although Johnson hid his villainy from electors, behind closed doors he boasted openly of doing whatever it took. He had power, and he made sure people knew it.
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