I have only given this 4 stars for a very good reason and that is really down to the books editor, who failed to do his job. Whilst this is the first of the definitive 5 book biography of LBJ and is extremely detailed and well written, it has one flaw and that is that Mr Caro never knows when enough is enough! If a particular incident or characteristic needs one example, Caro will give you ten, twenty or fifty in fact he will give you an entire chapter of repetition, just it seems to show how well he has done his homework. Once or twice is fine, not in every chapter and eventually you just have to start skipping pages to save your sanity and life is really to short to do otherwise. On the plus side this is the most fascinating and gripping political biography I have ever read (I am 65) and I have just finished the next volume, which is just as good a read. One minor criticism of Mr Caro, he lacks the ability to really understand what it took for a poor boy with nothing to climb up the greasy political pole, you kind of get the feeling that Caro would have preferred LBJ not to have risen to power, if the only way was to out fight the other contenders at their own game and using the house rules. Indeed Mr Caro comes across as a bit naïve at times, or possibly disingenuous, which if true would be very sad. Despite Mr Caro's obvious disapproval my admiration for LBJ knows no bounds and I thoroughly recommend this book....and the next.
This book starts with some of Lyndon Johnson's ancestors (Johnsons - impractical dreamers; Buntons - tempered dreams with doing what's necessary to succeed in life); moves into a discussion of the Hill Country (fascinating vignette of depleting natural resources); then onto Johnson's family and his early life (always needed to be the centre of attention; if he couldn't lead, he wouldn't play); his relationship with his parents (especially his father whom he idolised when his father was doing very well in life and with whom he fought tooth and nail when he failed in business); his leaving home a couple of times; life at college (he was unpopular but found a way to power for the first time); in politics (on the staff of a local Congressman; and his political campaigns).
The picture that emerges is rich, complex and detailed. Johnson got things done - he brought electricity to the Texas Hill Country (against the odds - people named their children after him - he had transformed their lives); and he seems through a later invention to have pretty much turned the 1940 Congressional elections in favour of the Democrats. But there's always a dark side - he has no clearly discernible principles (he seems like a model liberal to FDR but to hate the New Deal to his Texas big business backers - for whom he wins government contracts, and from whom he funds his campaigns). He will do whatever it takes to win power.
The years of research that inform this first volume of the biography are clear on every page. It's impossible really to question Caro's narrative or most of his judgements (he seems harsher on Johnson here than in Volume 4 - by which time he seems to have decided that Johnson did have some political beliefs - they were just extremely well hidden until he became President, for the most part). Only one aspect of Johnson's life I'd have liked to know more about - his increasingly frequent hospitalisations seem to be linked to brief depressive episodes. They aren't, however, quite treated as that - Caro makes clear that they are partly psychological - but doesn't delve into just what's going on at these times in Johnson's internal world.
It's a great read, though, and I'd very strongly recommend it to others.
This book is one that I have been going to read for many years and I finally bought it, and I'm so glad that I did. It is one of the finest biographies that I have ever read and a revealing insight into the early years of LBJ. Caro is concerned for his readers to understand where LBJ comes from and the formative issues that made such a complex character. As a British reader too, it's good to have such a clear description of the hill country, Texan and Washington politics, which all puts the LBJ into sharper focus. I found this book so gripping I was almost reading it as a novel as characters were developed and the plot unravelled. And all this against the background of detailed and thorough research.
I can't recommend this book enough, buy it and read it!
Lyndon B Johnson's Presidency is often overlooked,since he has the distinction of being the President that followed Kennedy's Camelot and preceded Nixon's Watergate. But none the less,his rise to power is no less fascinating the two Presidents who came before and after LBJ.
Robert Caro sets the stage,to tell the story of a politician whose ruthlessly brutal and pragmatic ambition,took him to great heights at early age,but earned him the scorn,hatred and distrust from his peers. The first part of this epic biography starts out in the barren,poverty stricken Hill Country,in Texas. The author paints a vivid picture of the hard life the Johnson family had,living in a part of the United States which was 20 years behind the rest of the country. Raised on a bleak,isolated Texas Farm, Lyndon B John,wanted nothing more then to break of this poverty and make something of himself. His father's former position as a Texas State Legislator,inspired his entrance into politics, but ultimately his father's failures drove him relentlessly,towards success,to avoid the poor,back breaking life,he experienced at an early age.
To reach the great heights he desired to reach,LBJ lied,cheated and back-stabbed anyone who was in his way achieving his goals.Which is a tactic that is effective,it earns you little friends in the process. In college he was a hated and unpopular student. But through the use and misuse of the colleges political system,LBJ was able to gain great power within the college,the respect of his peers and the affection of the faculty.
After University,LBJ talents were no overlooked and his first experiences in politics, was as a secretary of a Texas congressman who had no interest,what so ever in politics. LBJ took advantage of his position and his bosses absence and became de facto congressman,using his position to learn how to play politics within Washington DC. By the time he was finished,the amount of influence and connections he made,laid the groundwork for a political network,that would prepare him for his first run for public office.
The latter half of the books goes into detail, about Lyndon B Johnson's tireless campaign for Congress,which earned him an unlikely victory as well as the start of a friendship with President Roosevelt and concludes with his first taste of political defeat.
Robert Caro's first volume on the life of rise of LBJ, is told with rich detail and intimate detail. Just like his contemporaries, I find myself hating Lyndon B Johnson for the tactics he uses to acquire influence and power, but there are moments I cant help respect the tenacity and endless energy he possessed,which pulled him out of a hard,back breaking life,like his father before him. By far one of the best political biographies I have ever read and could not recommend it more.
This is the best biography I have ever read. Not just LBJ, but all sorts of details from the working lives of women in corrugated iron homesteads to the difference electrification made to farming folk in 1930s rural Texas were just fascinating reading. I quite like politics, but even those who don't would surely find the story of LBJ's early life a great read the way Mr. Caro tells it. It was an extraordainary roller coaster - at times I really loathed LBJ, and thinking "Can this man get any lower?" and then I started really pulling for him as he actually does deliver things (like the electrification above) for his constiuents (and then back to the former emotion as he follows triumph up with another shabby deal). All in all, it was a sobering read on the way we run our society, and why men like LBJ get to the top. Does the good they do outweigh the terrible things they do to advance up the greasy pole? I am not sure how to answer that, but after bringing 1920s and 1930s Texas to life in a way I would not have thought possible, this book has left me serioulsy thinking about how we get the politicians we deserve in a democratic society, and I think it would challenge any other reader in the same (very exicting) way too.
A wonderfully researched book. How could any individual be so desperate for power? It makes you wonder about today's politicians particularly what is going on in America just at the moment. What is the choice between Clinton and Trump?
There is no doubt about it that this a masterful biography. If you want to delve deeply into a world of an individual then this is it. A few things bother me, one; Johnson is absent and Caro puts premium on the opinion, (good or bad), of everyone on Johnson's life,except Johnson. This makes the entire narrative a third person one, which gives tremendous power to Caro himself as author. Two; as in the Powerbroker, he often builds up to knock down, and more than once, (e.g. his college election) he is has the objectivity of the prosecutor. This leads to the third problem I have with it, Caro's view of politics (as with the Powerbroker), is often painfully idealistic. However, all that aside, this a wonderful read, a fascinating story that is brilliantly told. Often his journalistic skills come to the fore in creating a vivid background for the reader, whether it be Hill County or Congress, that would have been impossible to imagine for the reader in less skilled hands. It is hard to see how this book will ever go out of print. Caro is the narrator and Johnson the character; its bias, bizarrely, will prevent it from being dated. Better, more informative and definitely more satisfying to read than most fiction. (PS: Watch out for Caro's obssession about Johnson's ears).
I would normally avoid books about policitians like the plague, but came across this somewhat by accident and it is exceptionally well written. The narrative of this hugely complex man is strangely gripping, perhaps because it is not just about LBJ, but paints a picture of life in the USA in that era.
Superbly written, meticulously researched, I am finding this book completely absorbing. I have read plenty of fiction books that are less exciting than this book. Totally absorbing, I have difficulty putting it down.