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180 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing biography and work of history
Readers who found themselves devouring David McCullough's superb biography of John Adams and Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" may think it's a new phenomenon for works of history and biography to be as compellingly written as a novel by John Grisham or Stephen King.
But Robert Caro set the standard years with his enormous biography of New York City...
Published on April 27, 2002 by Paul Britton

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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caro's weakest book....
Like many others, I have read everything by Caro. Path to Power, the first part of the Johnson biography, I regard as the best book i have ever read. Others do too - William Hague, the former leader of the Conservative Party in Britain said so too.
Therefore Master of the Senate has a lot to live up to. Sadly it doesn't come close. Here's the flaws I see:
1. The...
Published on October 15, 2003


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180 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing biography and work of history, April 27, 2002
By 
Paul Britton (Rochester, NY, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Readers who found themselves devouring David McCullough's superb biography of John Adams and Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" may think it's a new phenomenon for works of history and biography to be as compellingly written as a novel by John Grisham or Stephen King.
But Robert Caro set the standard years with his enormous biography of New York City mogul Robert Moses (which appeared in the early 1970s) and with the first volume of his monumental biography of Lyndon Johnson (which appeared in 1982). Caro knows how to tell a story like no one else. Like its two predecessors, "Master of the Senate" will keep you up long after you know you should turn off the lights and go to sleep.
This is not merely lively writing; it is meticulously researched political and social history, and it is the story of a man who was larger than life, in the full sense of that cliched term. During his lifetime, no one, even his closest colleagues and family members, could have known or understood half as much about Lyndon Johnson as Robert Caro has learned in his nearly thirty years of researching Johnson's life and times. Every colorful detail recounted by Caro fascinates, sometimes morbidly, for Johnson's many character defects tended to overshadow his real accomplishments and his place in 20th century American history. Caro does not stint on either character defects or accomplishments.
I waited restlessly for ten years for this volume, wondering when -- and if -- it would appear, wondering whether Caro would have the health and strength to research and write it. His life of Johnson was originally to have been three volumes; now a fourth will be needed. One wonders whether Caro, who took more than 1100 pages in "Master of the Senate" to cover Johnson's 12-year career in the Senate, will be able to cover his vice-presidency, presidency, and post-presidency life in one final volume.
After waiting ten years, I devoured "Master of the Senate in five days. It did not disappoint. I could not possibly recommend a book more enthusiastically.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Masterpeice, November 17, 2002
By 
"apsk13" (Danvers, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Caro's work is amazing - again. Just as with the first two volumes of the life of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate is a page turning epic, this time focusing on the United States Senate in the 1950s. Caro's description of Johnson's meteoric rise demonstrates the subject's brilliance in, first the attainment, and then the use, of power. One also comes away with the the unavoidable impression that this use of power was, primarily, for personal purposes.
Johnson is not a likeable character in any of the author's three volumes. Liar, cheater, overly sensitive, obsessed, cold, unfeeling, mean-spirited (read how he treats Lady Bird), all of these descriptions are appropriate. You might think that Caro does not like his subject and is tainted in his analysis. However, when you consider the amount of work and research that went into this offering, as well as the other volumes, it is hard to challenge the author's motivation or analysis. The three volumes taken together, to my mind, constitute the most thoroughly researched work on any political figure in American political history.
Do not be put off by the massiveness of the work. Unless you have a pretty open schedule it will take you sometime to get through the more than one thousand pages, but it is thoroughly enjoyable from cover to cover. The writing is as good as the research. And it is not just Johnson. Caro's mini-biography of Senator Russell of Georgia, which continues throughout the pages, is brilliant. His history of the Senate and its great figures, including Clay, Calhoun and Webster, which puts Johnson's actions into context, might be the single best part of the book (don't skip over it).
There is so much included in Master of the Senate, all of it worthwhile. I have not even mentioned the focus of the second half of the book featuring Johnson's efforts at passage of the Civil Rights Act. When you think of Johnson at the end of his career, bumbling his way through the Vietnam War disaster and sadly announcing his withdrawal from the 1968 Presidential race, you forget that he was one of the greatest politicians of the 20th Century. Not after you read this account. I can not recommend Master of the Senate enough.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Typically brilliant Caro - a Masterful tale, June 26, 2002
By 
Eric V. Moye (New York, by way of Dallas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Once again, Robert Caro hits a home run. The third volume of the LBJ biography is even better (to my mind, at least) than either volumes one or two. The first hundred pages is the best history of the United States Senate I have ever read.
Caro's writing style is never ever boring. He turns a phrase as well as any fiction author, and captures the imposing presence of LBJ. For the reader it is as if we were actually on the Senate floor, being buttonholed by Johnson himself. LBJ alternately cajoled, threatened, flattered, fawned and browbeat his colleagues as he consolidated power in himself as no one ever had before him.
The story of this volume is Johnson's transformation from a typical Southern Senator, with all the baggage that entails, to the man who masterminded the passage of the first Civil Rights law in one hundred years. There is no question that the Act as passed was tepid, and the jury trial guarantee which was included in order to get the Southern Senators to acquiesce to its passage was enough to ensure that perpetrators of rights violation could do so without fear of conviction. Nonetheless, if only for its symbolic significance, Caro makes clear that this did offer hope to a segment of the population sorely in need of even that symbolic victory. There is ample evidence presented for those who believe that Johnson went through this effort and transformation because of his driving ambition to be President.
His most brilliant work since the Robert Moses bio. No doubt this volume will join that opus as one of the most important biographies of our time.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyndon Johnson: Mover and maker of men, March 29, 2004
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
It's hard to reconcile the Lyndon B. Johnson as president that I watched when I was growing up during Vietnam and the Lyndon Johnson as Senate leader in Robert Caro's definitive and comprehensive book, "Master of the Senate". President Johnson always looked tired and sad. Caro's Johnson is full of the vitality and energy that I had missed ten years earlier.
Slowly and deliberately, Caro sets out on a path to show the reader that LBJ was a man of tremendous complexity, imbued with an enormous drive and talent. Senator Johnson certainly attained, as majority leader, the peak job of his career in a sense and I'm sure a job that was his most satisfying, his mixed reviews as president, notwithstanding. That such a massive literary effort could be achieved showing just twelve years of Johnson's life is a tribute to both author and subject.
Caro knows how to build and tell a story better than anyone. Setting the opening chapters as the prelude he gradually constructs an account of the mushrooming career of a man who could be charming and vulgar, obliging and vicious, honorable and ignominious, noble and petty. That Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon served together in the Senate and were back-to-back presidents is one of the great side stories in American politics. The characters in "Master of the Senate" are handled deftly by Caro, who always puts Lyndon Johnson right at center stage. There are men of great stature surrounding Johnson like Senator Richard Russell and Speaker Sam Rayburn, who more often than not and more often than others steered LBJ's career. There are some losers, too.....principled Senator Paul Douglas, who never seemed to get the hang of Senate politics, Senator William Knowland, who never learned how to count votes and President Eisenhower who comes off looking like an informed George W. Bush. But Caro saves his best episodes for the crescendos of the later acts, especially the Civil Rights fight of 1957. Through the middle of every storm there is Lyndon Johnson, HAVING to win every contest.
I was particularly roused by one comment Johnson made to Katherine Graham, wife of (and later publisher herself) Phil Graham of the Washington POST. He told Mrs. Graham that "civil rights could be accomplished, not by idealism but by rough stuff." And since Johnson played rough (and knew how to count) he was always besting Senators Douglas, Humphrey and their fellow liberals who preached the idea but didn't have Johnson's ability to cajole, buttonhole, dealmake and even compromise when necessary.
Although both admired and detested as a Senate leader, Lyndon Johnson was ultimately a man of astounding achievement. It is ironic that though LBJ sought the presidency so vigorously, he attained it accidentally. However, his home was the Senate and in that body he was an unqualified success. Robert Caro has captured the essence of Lyndon Baines Johnson and diffused it remarkably through the 1,040 pages of this masterpiece.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Political Biography Ever Written, May 23, 2002
By 
Steven M. Gorelick "Steve" (Westfield, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Robert Caro has always been a brilliant writer, meticulous researcher, and "demystifier" par excellence. No complex process, policy, or political controversy has been beyond his ability to clearly and lucidly explain.
But something even new and better happens in "Master of the Senate." Caro now becomes in every sense a brilliant historian. Because, more skillfully than he ever has before -- Caro places Johnson within the much larger context of the history of the US Senate and the ongoing theme of legislative vs. executive power.
The riveting and fascinating anecdotes are there, believe me. The double-dealing, the womanizing, the red-baiting, the legislative genius. All there. But they are placed smack dab in the middle of a serious and subtle analysis of the history of legislative decision-making.
Quite simply the best political biography I have ever read.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rules of the game, June 10, 2002
By 
M. A Newman (Alexandria, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Robert Caro's latest volume on the career of Lyndon Johnson is a fascinating warts and all study of the uses of parliamentary power. Even though this is meant to be a picture of the Senate in the 1950s, I would imagine anyone wishing to understand the workings of this institution will find this book useful. This is due to the subject of Caro's efforts, who undeerstand the workings of the senate better than probably anyone in its history. This is a well-researched book, which along with Robert Dallek's two volumes, is likely to set the standard for LBJ biographies in the years to come. Caro has done his homework and the portraits of Johnson, as well as other members of the senate are intelligent and well-researched. Even though this book is about a president (this period will be covered in future books)it redresses an inbalance in the way Americans view their history, which is almost exclusively through the administrations of its presidents. Books which deal with the career of senators, representatives, or federal judges, are not published to a sufficiently wide-enough audience. As a consequence, the mainstream tends to view its achievements (and failings) as the responsibility of the executive, quite the opposite of how things actually work or how the founding fathers intend things to work. Hopefully this book, which has been justly successful, will lead to a restoration in balance in this area.
Even though I gave this book a five star rating, I should alert any potential readers to a flaw that runs through all of the books that Caro has written. This is a seeming unwillingness to concede what a dirty business politics is. In all of the books, Caro makes comparisons with other people who encountered LBJ through the years and these comparisons reflect poorly on Johnson. The problem is that none of the people that are cited went on to become Majority leader (and a powerful one at that) or President. In discussing LBJ's views on matters such as race and what he was willing to do about this issue, a better comparison would be someone like FDR. Caro also should have consulted Kenneth Davis's books on FDR, particularly the one covering 1937-40 (even though they do not deal with the period in question-the bibliography includes books which do not deal with the 1950s-era Senate) Politics is the art of the possible after all. I think that perhaps the one thing that is missing and would make my praise unqualified is to put LBJ's actions in the context of others seeking to get ahead in politics. Some of the more extreme examples of LBJ's behavior might not seem so strange as a result.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Russell's Prodigal Son, May 24, 2003
By 
Thomas J. Burns (Apopka, Florida USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
In his quest for meticulousness and accuracy, Robert Caro sometimes sacrifices poetry for precision. It is thus a delight to absorb the first two chapters of this book, a seventy-five page grand essay on the institution of the United States Senate and its role in the governmental process. This portion of the work should be required reading for citizenship and voting. We have here informative prose at its best, a walk through the various institutions of government, explaining how each is unique. In particular, Caro sets forth a primer on citizen expectations of the Senate. In so many words, he argues persuasively that the Senate, as crafted by our forefathers, was a masterful invention. Tragically, its lofty mission as the philosophic branch of government was derailed by Civil War and Reconstruction, so that by 1949 it was little more than a helpless giant held hostage by regional interests [notably the South] and business [notably utilities]. Like a dysfunctional family hiding abuse, the Senate was long on form and corrupt in substance, powerless to defend and uphold the basic constitutional guarantee of equality, justice, and voting rights.
That Lyndon Johnson would break this Gordian knot is almost beyond comprehension. Many reviewers have made note of Johnson's mixed motivations and psychology. Johnson's eleven years in the Senate did not, by any stretch of the imagination, render him more of a statesman and less of a wheeler-dealer. Caro's account of Vice-President elect Johnson's behavior in his last Senate days is almost comic. But the fact remains that in Caro's telling of the tale the 1949 edition of the sniveling servant senator of Texas oil and gas corporations was not quite the same man as the 1957 Senate Majority Leader who spearheaded passage of the first civil rights bill of the twentieth century. The author, a critic of Johnson's methods, gives Johnson his due and his place in history.
One of the primary building blocks in Caro's story is Richard Russell, the Georgia institution who orchestrated the Southern block of Senators. Having run unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1952, Russell, in the Caro scheme of things, transplanted his own aspirations to Johnson, who had carefully cultivated his relationship to Russell as practically a son to the father. Russell was thus willing to bring the Dixie Band along behind Johnson, convincing his southern neighbors that by giving Johnson latitude in dealing with the northern and liberal branch of the Democratic Party, they increased the chances of a Johnson/Southern presidential candidacy down the road. Thus it was that only Strom Thurmond filibustered the 1957 civil rights legislation.
Caro's "Russell Thesis" is essentially the backbone of the work. Without Russell, Johnson would have been no more successful as Majority Leader than his recent predecessors who had resigned into oblivion. I believe that Caro makes a very good case for this reading of senatorial politics through the 1950's. I do believe that the theory will not go unchallenged. For one thing, it assumes that the Dixie Democrats actually believed that Johnson was of presidential timbre, or for that matter, that they themselves would have wanted a Johnson Presidency. Johnson's Machiavellian methods and his borderline mania were hardly the stuff that would inspire confidence in a Stennis, Ellender, George, or any other card carrying Southern member of the country's most exclusive club.
As Caro focuses so heavily on the Johnson-Russell connection, it is hard to know what Russell's allies really thought about Johnson. When one considers that the tacit but primary legislative goal of most senators of the Deep South was preservation of the "Southern Way of Life," [read segregation], a character of Johnson's sort might have served Southern senators as a diversion or political lightning rod. Certainly there was enough about Johnson to dislike, and any savvy senator, southern or otherwise, knew that Johnson's "walking around money" was not coming from the Sierra Club. Thus, while Caro emphasizes Johnson's power, he tends to underestimate the possibility that senators used Johnson for their individual or collective purposes as well. Russell, perhaps?
Many reviewers have noted the trail of people who paraded through Johnson's senate years. One who seems to have understood him well [if belatedly] was Richard Nixon. One gets the sense that if Nixon, and not the hapless William Knowland, had been Republican Minority Leader across the aisle, Johnson may have had a harder time of things. Another significant personage is James Rowe, the New Deal veteran whose personal advice, detailed memos, and political assessments were stunningly accurate in keeping Johnson on target for the White House. Certainly the Macbeth character in this drama is Hubert Humphrey, whose idealism and principle wrestled with ambition and insecurity. Johnson needed only to play him, not corrupt him. Somewhat invisible in this work-whether due to actual sickness or design-is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, an interesting omission. Caro's only record of Johnson's assessment of Kennedy was a kind of disdain for the Massachusetts' senator's chronic poor health; Johnson thought he was "sickly" and "yellow," and not robust enough to run for the vice-presidency in 1956. [p. 646]
Much also has been written by reviewers about the book's length. Aside from the marvelously crafted opening, there is some validity to issues raised about its editing. And, there is a bit of a time warp for the reader who devoured the previous volume hot off the press in 1990. One needs to do a reacquainting with the Texas oilmen, for example, who fueled Johnson's political ambitions. In doing the math, I have forsaken any hopes of seeing the end of the George Nash/Herbert Hoover saga in this life. I do hope I live long enough to follow Caro and Johnson to the White House, because it has been a hell of a story so far.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Man Without True Beliefs, June 18, 2002
By 
Thomas R. Breen (BROOKLYN, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Caro's latest installment is every bit as good as the first two volumes. The first portion of the book dealing with the history of the senate may be a little dry, but this background information is absolutely critical in understanding Johnson's monumental task of reforming the seniority system and avoiding filibusters.
Once again, Caro takes large volumes of information and makes it easy for the reader to retain. For example, he uses the term, "The three R's" to describe Johnson's mentoring by key figures such as FDR, Sam Rayburn, and Richard Russell.
While the book is very objective, I believe the reader is left with a sense of a man without any true beliefs. Caro demonstrates this by explaining that Johnson's ambition always took precedence over any sense of right and wrong. Civil rights only become a Johnson priority as he realizes he cannot win the presidency as a regional southern candidate. Support for public power helped Johnson in his first congressional session, but this ideal was quickly abandoned when he realized to maintain power he needed the support of rich, Texas oilmen.
I highly recommend this book. The reader will learn the inner workings of the senate, the struggle for civil rights, and most importantly to coin a Caro term, "How power reveals".
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Update on the Next Volume, April 30, 2002
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This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
Just had to share some information on the next volume, I heard Robert Caro being interviewed today and he said that he expects his next LBJ book to be completed in 4 or 5 years. The reason this book took so long is that he has been also doing a lot of research on the next volume (LBJ's Vice-Presidency and Presidency years), because he needed to interview so many people before they die, several already have. Caro said that not only did he interview so many people from the LBJ administration, but he also had to read their papers, documents, etc. So, in effect, a lot of the ground work for Volume 4 has already been done.
I just started reading this volume and so far it has exceeded my expectations - wonderful detail without going overboard, fascinating perspective into that era. Caro is a great writer.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and endlessly fascinating, May 28, 2002
This review is from: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Hardcover)
I finished reading The Path to Power on 8 Apr 1983 and Means of Ascent on 14 Oct 1990 and while those volumes are worthwhile reading this volume is easily the best and most attention-holding of the three. We all know that Caro is a master at doing the opposite of what a photographer or painter might do to a subject: Caro accentuates, underlines, and reiterates the flaws in Johnson, but in this volume much time is devoted to the 1957 Civil Rights bill which Johnson managed to get enacted, and so there are more good things for Caro to say about LBJ than in the earlier volumes. The opening account of the Senate's history and the extended account of Richard Russell's life and career are digressions of great interest and are exceptionally well-done, and all in all I found this book one that held my attention and great interest to the very last page. It probably will be the volume which has the most good things to say about LBJ. The interest of the material for anyone who has followed politics makes five stars essential for this book, tho one might question some of the emphases that Caro puts on his material. But I suspect that the account of how Johnson got the civil rights bill of 1957 enacted cannot be improved upon. There are bound to be in a book this size some errors, and I noted a few that I will list so that they can be corrected in the next printing. On page 20, it is said that Webster's famed Seventh of March speech was given in 1849 instead of the correct year: 1850. Page 64: Caro says in 1938 Howard Smith was the head of the House Rules committee, but he did not become the chairman of the Rules Committee until 1955! Also on page 64, and later, Caro says every major domestic law proposed by FDR after the Supreme Court fight of 1937 was blocked, but the Wage-Hour Law certainly qualifies as major legislation, and it was enacted in 1938. In a footnote on page 1075 Caro describes Elbert Thomas of Utah as a "firm southern ally" which anyone familiar with his career would know is not true: he was a consistent New Deal supporter. Page 254: Charles Tobey is called a Democrat, but he was a Republican. On page 96 Caro describes the Southern senators entering the Senate and has Cotten Ed Smith entering with Clyde R. Hoey, but Cotten Ed Smith died in 1944 and Hoey did not become a Senator till 1945 so they could not have entered the chamber together. Page 361: It is stated that Robert Taft died just four months after accepting the post of Majority leader in January of 1953; but Taft died July 31, 1953, so it is more like six months than four. Page 362: "the arch-conservative William Langer of North Dakota" is a particularly inappropriate description of the rabidly isolationalist but radical Senator from North Dakota, often denominated as "Wild Bill." Page 375: Brien McMahon is described as a Republican, which he of course was not. Page 522 calls Welker of Idaho and Malone of Nevada "midwestern" allies of Taft, which is a new way to look at those states. Page 562: Senator Hayden did not become chairman of Appropriations "thanks to McKellar's death" but thanks to McKellar's defeat by Albert Gore, Sr. (in 1952). Page 704 and page 776: Clarence Diggs, Jr. is described as a Chicago Congressman but he was a Detroit Congressman. Page 1055 names "William J. Fulbright" but his correct name is "J. William Fulbright." But these obvious errors are minor and do not mean the book is not carefully researched--even tho it would have been nice to have real footnotes instead of the difficult to follow source notes which the book has.
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Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III by Robert A. Caro (Hardcover - April 23, 2002)
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