Master of the Senate : The Years of Lyndon Johnson Part 3 of 3 Unabridged Edition
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From Library Journal
Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Master of the Senate can intimidate on sheer size alone, but it really doesn’t feel like over a thousand pages as one gets lost in these intricately woven tales and personalities such as Richard Russell, the Leland Olds affair, Lyndon Johnson as institution wrangler, and the intrigue over the 1956 Presidential Nomination among others. Caro once again excels at going in depth in creating these larger than life characters and situations. One feels the rage of Estes Kefauver as he’s passed over for Foreign Relations or Richard Russell’s loneliness, for example.
Lyndon Johnson is of course still Lyndon Johnson. Readers who revel in Johnson’s backroom deal making and questionably immoral behavior will find plenty to sink their teeth into as anything that could help him gain more power is seized on and we see his political genius in the 1957-58 fight over getting a civil rights bill through the Senate. This volume presents a more complex portrait of Johnson as caught between ambition and perhaps genuine feelings for minorities that often leaves the reader unsure of the truth.
I don’t know that anyone’s opinion of Lyndon Johnson will change through Master of the Senate, but it does present more nuance than the utter contempt the first two volumes of the series inspired.
In order to describe how Johnson put his own stamp on the manner in which the Senate operates, the author begins with a hundred pages devoted to the history of the Senate and its operations in order to more sharply delineate how Johnson changed that institution. In previous books the author describes how Johnson changes organizations in which he is involved from relatively apolitical organizations to political organizations that Johnson uses as bases for the exercise of power. This is no less true during Johnson’s tenures first as assistant leader and then as Majority Leader.
The book is far from a dull recitation of facts. Instead, the author organizes his materials into a series of interesting stories rather than seeking to give a comprehensive presentation of all details relating to the time Johnson spent in the Senate. These stories illustrate the significant stepping stones Johnson follows as he ascends the rungs of power. Making the stories of Johnson’s ascent more interesting, the author occasionally takes detours from the primary story line that serve to provide context for the primary narrative.
The author never digresses simply to add more content to what already is a massive work; these putative digressions always link to the main narrative, even when they may not seem to do so at first. The tale of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 receives the greatest amount of attention in this volume. It is a riveting story told in an almost novelistic style. While the author skips certain episodes in their entirety, here he gives an almost day-by-day account.
The writing is clear and straightforward. It is based on extensive research, derived from material from previous biographers, interviews with Johnson’s contemporaries, and extensive use of the archives at the Johnson presidential library and from other collections. This approach might seem to provide for a dry, scholarly work, but this is not the case. Instead, the author gives the reader a thoroughly entertaining book that leaves the reader wanting more. Plenty more is provided within this text itself as well as in the two books remaining in this series.
Top international reviews
But two particular points may be worth highlighting for anyone else interested in politics who hasn't yet read it, and is perhaps even put off by the thought of finding the time for its 1,000 plus pages.
One is that this volume isn't simply a biography of a slice of Lyndon Johnson's career, it's also a scintillating history of the US Senate and the way in which power and formal political rules interact. Included in that is a warning of the fallibility of long-term political forecasts with its account of the years when it looked like the Republicans could become the political voice of the African American community propelled in no small part by Richard Nixon.
The second is that an audio version is available - suitable, for example, for listening to when out delivering contemporary political leaflets. Not just available but brilliantly narrated by Grover Gardner. Both author and narrator are lucky to have the other as such a skilled part-creator of the audio book.
At 1040 pages, the book is very long indeed. It covers the history of the Senate itself (its role to moderate both the President/Executive and the potential populism of the House of Representatives; its great moments - and its failures in the past) as well as the years from 1950 when Johnson was a senator. Much of the final section of the book also covers at some length the civil rights movement of the 1950s before launching into Johnson's extremely determine and creative handling of it in the Senate in 1957. There is also drama, with Johnson's heart attack and his response to it. And deep analysis of Johnson's character - sympathy for the underdog yes, but always subordinate to the quest for power. We get a very clear sense both of the great good Johnson could do in the world; and of the harm.
Having now read all four volumes of this biography to appear to date, I cannot wait for volume 5!
In the end, LBJ emerges as a bigger than life figure, a political genius, with genuine sense of Compassion and with immense Ambition. As Caro sums it up, if and when the two came into conflict Ambition won. This is truly one of the best books on USA politics.
I have discovered that, for me, the best way to learn about US history is to read the best biographies of Presidents.
which I believe is due in May."Master of the Senate" showed him in the position in which he was
most comfortable,experienced and effective. He was probably the most successful Senate majority leader