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The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2012: In the fourth volume of Caro’s ambitious, decades-long biographic exploration, Lyndon Johnson finally reaches the White House. At 600-plus pages, it’s a brick of a book, but it reads at times like a novel, and a thriller, and a Greek tragedy. Caro's version of JFK's assassination is especially chilling, and the characters—not just LBJ, but the Kennedys and the power brokers of Washington --are downright Shakespearean. --Neal Thompson
Lyndon Johnson was a figure of immense gifts and horrendous flaws, and I doubt any writer will ever capture the arc of his triumphant and ultimately tragic life so well again. — Michael Kazin
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This fourth volume covers a very narrow period of time from the late 1950s until late 1964. However, in this period, much happened. LBJ went from being a leader of the senate to the Vice President under JFK. Arguably, in this role, he was far from happy. Whereas he formerly wielded considerable power, now he was confined to a minor role. US Vice Presidents, despite being a heartbeat from the Presidency, are often given only ceremonial tasks. This was the case with LBJ.
Of course, when that heartbeat stopped with the assassination of JFK on that fateful day in Dallas, Johnson was thrust into a new role that he could never have really expected. He faced a critical task of binding the nation’s wounds whilst stepping into the shoes of a martyr. Johnson performed this task better than almost anyone could have imagined. It was undoubtedly Johnson’s shining career moment; the very zenith of his life. Johnson morphed from an often grubby politician into a statesman. He negotiated his budget through Congress and then nursed civil rights legislation into place. He undid decades of Jim Crow racism in the United States. He changed the country massively.
To any student of American history, this book is a masterpiece. Robert Caro has produced a work for the ages. I am eager to read his final volume. I trust this will come soon.
Caro's extraordinarily well-researched book begins with the run-up to the 1960 election. Psychologically unable to commit to his own candidacy until it was too late, LBJ surrendered his powerful Congressional position for a ticket-balancing number two spot. Tellingly, his ambition for the ultimate prize was evidenced by his open calculation of the odds of the President dying in office. While we all vividly know how that calculation turned out, Caro paints a portrait of the Vice Presidential years that undoubtedly had LBJ questioning his acceptance of that secondary role. During that time, he was disliked, ignored and ridiculed by the President's inner circle - a far cry from the master politician who commanded the Senate from his post as Majority Leader.
In the aftermath of the horrific Dallas assassination, the marginalized Vice President re-emerged as Commander-in-Chief, calmly reassuring a shaken American public by his firm but careful assumption of control combined with his persuasion of that same Kennedy coterie to stay on in his administration. Simultaneously, LBJ immediately used the entire force of his personality and all of his political wiles to obtain passage of controversial legislation that was almost certainly doomed to Congressional purgatory. And beneath it all beat the soul of a man scarred by the poverty of his upbringing and passionate about lifting America's underclass.
What emerges from Caro's detailed narrative is a fascinating portrait of a highly effective leader who nonetheless was plagued by self-doubt - an inner demon that foreshadowed the failure of Vietnam. Although this book only scratches the surface of the Vietnam experience, it leaves the reader in high anticipation of Volume 5 and what that period reveals about one of the most interesting personalities of 1950's and '60's. While we can hope that this happens sooner than the 8-10 year wait time between the first four chapters, sacrificing the quality of the research and writing that is Caro's hallmark would not be a welcome tradeoff.
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There is some repetition but mainly this is a style of writing that is verbose.Read more