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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Biography Written
Forget about what your opinion of LBJ is. You still need to read this book. I don't care if you like him, hate him, care nothing for him, or whatever. The way Caro writes a biography is almost breathtaking. Ever wonder what a summer day deep in the Texas Hill country is like? You'll find out in here, and rest assured, it won't put you to sleep.
This book is a great...
Published on October 15, 2000 by scott_from_dallas

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the editor?
I downgraded from four stars because of the repetitiveness. The book needs vigorous pruning. The detail is impressive, and I like the background stage-setting, but, for example, how many times do we need to be told the details of a farm wife's life? Also, I can't imagine why an author would spend so many years researching and writing about somene he despises so. But I...
Published 7 months ago by Cornelia Lovette


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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Biography Written, October 15, 2000
By 
scott_from_dallas (Irving, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
Forget about what your opinion of LBJ is. You still need to read this book. I don't care if you like him, hate him, care nothing for him, or whatever. The way Caro writes a biography is almost breathtaking. Ever wonder what a summer day deep in the Texas Hill country is like? You'll find out in here, and rest assured, it won't put you to sleep.
This book is a great introducation to 20th Century Texas politics. The first few chapters hardly mention LBJ as Caro goes back to LBJ's father and discusses his life. For those of you that have read this book and the 1987 sequel, Means of Ascent, you may be wondering why the third volume covering the 1960s hasn't been written. I have it on good authority that the entire LBJ clan -- family, friends, and close advisors -- have made it clear to Caro that he is unwelcome around them. Hatchet job, or sour grapes because of the truth? Well, read the book and find out. But my guess is that Caro's terrific sources have simply dried up, and he isn't going to put his name on something where the quality is less than this book. Unfortunately for him, that might be near impossible.
One more thing to the quality of this book: there are about a dozen other LBJ books out there ranging from good to just plain bad. Every one of them without exception use this book as a source.
UPDATE: I am extremely happy to be wrong with my guess about Caro's sources drying up. I am looking forward to reading Master of the Senate.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest biographies of our time..., February 21, 2002
By A Customer
This book, published in 1982, has already achieved a legendary status among history and political buffs. When it was released its author, Robert Caro, won enormous acclaim for his unprecedented research and engrossing writing style - and plenty of criticism for his harsh and unsparing portrait of Lyndon Johnson. Caro literally spent years living in and interviewing people in the arid Texas Hill Country where Johnson was born and raised, and in the process he acquired a level of knowledge about his topic that few other biographers even approach. Like William Manchester's "Last Lion" biographies of Winston Churchill, "The Path to Power" is far more than a simple biography of the young Lyndon Johnson's desperate desire to escape the grinding poverty of rural Texas in the 1930's and achieve power in Washington. Caro writes unforgettably of the Johnson family, the culture and history of the Texas Hill Country, the incredibly corrupt political system in Texas at the time, and of how Johnson both brilliantly and cynically manipulated that system for his own purposes. Caro's descriptions of the people in LBJ's life - from his mother to his wife Lady Bird to fellow Texan Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives and Johnson's mentor in national politics - are superb and detailed.

However, Caro's unsparing portrait of LBJ as a power-obsessed liar and bully who would stop at nothing to succeed greatly offended many of LBJ's associates whom Caro had interviewed, as well as liberal historians who cherished Johnson's activism on Civil Rights and other liberal causes (and who conveniently wanted to forget Johnson's record in Vietnam and elsewhere). Many of Caro's sources have refused to be interviewed for his later books on Johnson, and historians such as Robert Dallek have written their own LBJ biographies in which they specifically single out and criticize Caro's view of Johnson. Yet far from disproving his arguments, the release of once-secret documents about Vietnam, as well as other biographies written over the last 20 years, have only confirmed many of Caro's assertions about Johnson. LBJ's bullying of even his closest aides, his vote-stealing in his 1948 Senate election, his illegal business schemes that allowed him to go from being literally "dirt poor" to a multimillionaire on a government worker's salary, his shameless brown-nosing of powerful politicians and businessmen, even while he had love affairs with their wives and girlfriends - all of the allegations made by Caro in 1982 have since been confirmed elsewhere. The fact that Lyndon Johnson was a lousy human being shouldn't be blamed on Caro - he simply dug up the facts (much of which Johnson had tried to hide from the public, such as cutting out all the unflattering photos of himself in hundreds of his college's yearbooks!)

Yet despite the shocking and disturbing revelations in this book, Caro does seem to have a sneaking admiration for Johnson's unceasing drive and energy - the LBJ who emerges in this book may be unappealing in many ways, yet he also manages to move his beloved Hill Country into the twentieth century with cheap electrical power, good roads and schools, and other modern conveniences which its residents might never have gotten without his help. There are flashes in this book (albeit only briefly) of the more appealing LBJ that shows up in Caro's sequels to this biography - the college student who teaches English at a mostly Mexican-American school in Texas and genuinely tries to help his students succeed; the young man who begins to develop a real feeling and concern for America's poor and needy. If Caro's thesis is that even the most self-centered and crass politicians can still do some good, then in Lyndon Johnson he has found his perfect subject. And, it's worth noting that while Robert Dallek and others may have criticized Caro's "interpretation" of Lyndon Johnson, not one of his critics has dared to challenge Caro's research or findings. Indeed, many of his critics have shamelessly used Caro's findings to try and support their own agendas. However, given that it was Caro who actually did the interviews and legwork, and given his unprecedented familiarity with Johnson's life, background, and career, it's difficult not to believe that Caro has a much better view of the "real" LBJ than any of his critics. If you're looking for a book that has passages that will stick in your memory for years, and which gives a view of a great American politician's early life which puts all others to shame, then the "Path to Power" will not be a disappointment. Superb!
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87 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Zenith of Biographical Writing, July 3, 2000
By 
Candace Scott (Lake Arrowhead, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (Hardcover)
Thank God for Robert Caro, who is a brilliant researcher, complier of facts and an outstanding writer. His way with words is leagues ahead of other historical biographers, he writes with the flair of a novelist but he backs up his words with years of dilligent research. What other biographer pulls up stakes and lives for *five years* in the Texas hill country in order to better understand his subject? This first volume stands at the pinnacle of the biographical art.
Many have criticized Caro (John Connelly most vociferously) for being overly critical of Johnson. I share this concern and feel he sometimes bends over backwards to "stick it to" Johnson. Caro has said repeatedly that he will deal with LBJ's Presidency with a more charitible outlook and this is to be hoped.
I am an unabashed fan of Lyndon Johnson and this will stand as the definitive biography of him for many years. Though it's caustic and critical, it's so beautifully written you can read it again and again. A masterpiece of biography.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, Engrossing Biography of a Real Person, June 1, 2002
By 
Grahan Cooley (Hoboken, New Jersey) - See all my reviews
I picked up this book largely ignorant of LBJ (he died 4 months before I was born), so I had little preconceived notions of the man. This fine bio really opened up the future president as a real person to me.
Too often, books about presidents try to paint the subject as either a great man or a scoundrel. While seeming to do the latter, the author actually dodges both categories and simply tells a tale of the creation of a president. Caro subscribes to a hybrid of the "nature or nurture" theory (one of genetics or surroundings affecting what kind of person you become). Accordingly, Caro doesn't even really address his subject until fairly deep into the text, the first part of the book being more of a brief history of the Texas Hill Country through the eyes of LBJ's family line. By doing so, he thoroughly covers LBJ's origins (both familial and geographic).
When he does start looking at Johnson it is, admittedly, less than flattering. But it is REAL. Not really knowing much about the man he would become, I found the boy and man that he had been to be surprisingly real. This book doesn't seem to take a political tone that so many of the biographies of recent figures do. Caro avoids the commentary common on famous people that are still remembered (as opposed to say Teddy Roosevelt or George Washington) who still carry with them an emotional context for many Americans.
Caro certainly has strong opinions, but he makes a clear distinction between those opinions and facts, often phrasing opinions in a paragraph of questions to make the reader think about the material he just digested. It is clear what he thinks the answers are, but he refrains from actually answering them for you.
Whatever your take on Caro's Johnson, one has to respect his view as an informed one. Caro immersed himself in LBJ's life, lived where Johnson lived, interviewed thousands of those who knew him, and spent years reviewing LBJ's papers in Austin. Some take issue with his conclusions, but he is well qualified to make them.
(For another well documented biography that covers the often glossed over early years of great men, try "The Invention of George Washington" by Paul K. Longmore.)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, December 13, 1999
This review is from: The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (Hardcover)
The text closely matches information about LBJ's election hijinks described in a much later book, "The Fall of the Duke of Duval" by John Clark. Johnson's first try for senate in 1941 failed, not because of his enemies but because powerful liquor lobby forces wanted Gov. W.Lee O'Daniel, his opponent, out of Texas to Washington,DC to keep him from appointing prohibitionists to the state liquor control board.
Johnson would not have won his second try for U.S. Senator in 1948 without the corruption of the famous ballot box 13 in Jim Wells county, Texas -- vote fraud orchestrated by "The Duke of Duval", George Berham Parr. Mr. John Clark's test in "The fall of the Duke of Duval" provides full disclosure of the vote theft that made LBJ win this election.
As a third generation native Texan, I can tell you LBJ was not popular with many Texans and was losing by a few hundred votes LEGALLY in 1948. But Parr came through from South Texas and provided about 200 extra votes that made LBJ win by about 87 votes out of 1,000,000 cast. He never was considered Presidential Material but was selected as VP to get Kennedy more southern votes. Even at that Kennedy nearly lost. Considering Kennedy's age, no one expected LBJ to last long enough to becomne president after 2 Kennedy terms.
A very good book showing LBJ just didn't get the way he was "Yesterday".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The autoritative LBJ biography., March 12, 1999
By A Customer
Caro's work is simply flabbergasting. I read the 768 page book in a week flat (and ordered Vol. 2 at the mid-point to ensure I could seamlessly continue).
The key to the work is the way in which Caro is able to take a complex set of events and explain it in the context of a central theme. For example, Caro uses the building of the Marshall Ford dam to explain the urgency with which Herman Brown and Alvin Wirtz worked to get Johnson elected to the House.
In short, the book is well-written, thorough, and smart. Caro adds the extra value we require of a historian -- that is, he doesn't merely retell events, he places them in a coherent context so that we can understand what made LBJ. In the end, the portrait is a complex but ultimately scary one of power sought for power's sake.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most enlightening literary journey, December 28, 2009
By 
The pinnacle of biographical art.

Most people have strong opinions about LBJ and many have a divided opinion, admiring him in one sphere such as the Great Society and disdaining him in another such as Vietnam--or vice versa. Such opinions tend to slant our factual beliefs. Objective fact is elusive, but the principled historian's task is to strive hard after it. No biographer ever strived harder than Caro.

The bottom-line judgment you will derive from this first of four volumes is that LBJ was fiercely insecure, fiercely ambitious, and almost maniacally driven; and that these traits made him unendingly duplicitous in pursuit of personal grandeur. (In college, his nickname was "Bullsh-t Johnson")

What is so impressive about this book is not the ultimate judgment, but the heroic investigative journey. Caro's purpose, as in his earler "The Power Broker", was to examine power--how it is obtained and how it is exercised. LBJ is the perfect vehicle for that inquiry. He started with none and accumulated the maximum. No matter how sophisticated you may think yourself in the ways of politics, you will be fascinated and appalled. You will never look at politics in the same way again.

This book is also a rebuke to the "armchair" and "library" biographers. This is how it's done right. Doing it is very hard work.

A cross-country trip by car afforded an opportunity to re-read this masterpiece after 25 years, while transiting the Texas Hill Country that figures so large in the story. More is gained on re-reading than the first time 'round. That's part of how you identify a classic.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential for the history, critical for understanding, July 8, 2005
By 
S. Conner (Burke, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Having read this and the other LBJ books by Mr. Caro, I recently revisted this book. While I do agree with other reviews that Mr. Caro seems more comfortable dealing in absolutes and not shades of grey, I also suggest that in doing so he shows up the dichotomies of Lyndon Johnson. He does bad things to get power (and in fact profits from some practices both in more power and in dollars), then uses power to help. His Great Society was not just an attempt to out-do FDR, but to continue to assist the poor as he had while a young congressman fighting for rural electrification. Perhaps at sum LBJ simply was of the same cut as Willie Stark in "All the Kings Men", who said "we are born in the stink of the dydie and die in the stink of the shroud. Good comes from bad because there is nowhere else for it to come from."

Mr. Caro does paint a harsh picture of LBJ, but at the same time brings to light aspects of LBJ's life that had not previously been examined in depth-especially his relationship with his father. While Mr. Caro is not a licenses therapist, his estimation of how that relationship shaped LBJ seems on target.

The biographical section on Sam Rayburn is wonderful, and I remember when this book came out that this section was considered to be the closest thing to a solid Rayburn bio until D.B. Hardemann's bio of Rayburn almost ten years later.

The place where Mr. Caro really excels is in describing a place and a time, then framing events in that perspective. My understanding of the crushing need for rural electrification was greatly enhanced by his lengthy description of what the women of the Texas Hill Country had to endure to can food given that they had no electricity to use to run refrigerators. This ability, in addition to his reasearch, is the reason why this book is essential for a full historical record of LBJ's life, but also critical for understanding the world LBJ grew up in and that shaped him.

A great book. Buy it, and read it over and over again.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, June 13, 2006
When I started my endevour to read presidential biographies I had no interest in LBJ - he did not seem very interesting or appealing to me. After just a few pages of this stellar book I was riveted. It turns out that LBJ, though a vile man, is one of the most compelling stories of American political history. The book is as well written as any I have ever read (and I've read quite a few). I could not wait to read volume 2.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book, January 8, 2006
I remember when LBJ visited Australia in 1966 and received a pretty hostile reception because of the Vietnam War, this sparked my strong interest in US history and politics. I picked up this book while on holiday in the USA to find out what made this president tick. Once started l found it very hard to put down. It is a superbly written book which makes the reader feel that they are right beside LBJ as he makes his way up the path to power. The book is the result of years of prodigious research and analysis of documents, papers, letters and interviews. It contains an enormous amount of facts and details which are beautifully described.

Caro has done a magnificent job in the description of Johnson's early life up until 1941. From his childhood he had to be first in everything, whether at play as a child or as student at college he always craved admiration and respect. He needed to be able to dominate and use people to achieve his aim to attain and keep ever increasing amounts of power. Power and more power was what Johnson was about, he craved it like a drug and could not live without it.

The book captures his life in the Texas hill country, his troubled relationship with his father who was a hard working "straight as a shingle state legislator who was described by a powerful US Congressman years later as the best man he ever knew.

Father and son both shared the passion to look after the interests of powerless and poor people and the contrast of their personalities is presented well. His father adhered to beliefs and principles while in power, but for Johnson the end justified any means. Johnson's tireless work to gain electrification for remote areas is well documented in this book.

We see Johnson hard at work in student politics, party politics and in his dealings with powerful and wealthy men, learning the arts of manipulation, flattery, deceit and self advancement. His capacity for unstinting, sustained hard work is immense. LBJ is a fast learner when it comes to understanding who wields power and how he can obtain power and influence for himself.

He comes across as a chameleon like character who tells people what he thinks they want to hear with his eye always on self advancement at the same time. I loved the chapter on the powerful and honest Sam Rayburn, who comes across a deeply principled man.

Yet once he gains power Johnson is a genius at how to use this power to further advance himself to gain greater power and higher office. Johnson is that master politician who also knows how to use power to raise the living standards of the people who vote for him and make the voter feel that they have a friend in LBJ.

I loved this book it held me spell bound from beginning to end.
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The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro (Hardcover - November 12, 1982)
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