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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Also another aspect of LBJ’s persona is his respect for older men with a wealth of experience and he used this with such senior senators. In doing this LBJ quickly gained political power and soon became the leader of the Senate.
Caro digs deeps into LBJ’s political movements during the 1950’s and onto the 1960 Presidential election. In this study we learn of LBJ’s hesitation to enter into the Presidential race which ultimately cost him from being the candidate for the Democratic party. Caro explains how Kennedy chose LBJ as his Vice Presidential running mate. The author goes into exhaustive detail on how LBJ finally agreed to take that position.
Once in the Vice Presidential office, the author explains the routines and duties he was assigned by JFK. In doing his duties we learn of Johnson’s frustrations and at times his omissions from key meetings and participation in decisions. We also learn of the hostilities between LBJ and Robert Kennedy while JFK was President and after JFK was assassinated.
In further study by Caro, he goes into great depth about the assassination and what transpired in the 4 days after that tragic event. Caro starts the trek of how Johnson consolidated his power quickly to pass the Tax Reduction Bill and the Civil Rights Bill. In gaining and consolidating his power so quickly, Johnson showed that he was more effective than JFK in passing this much needed legislation.
Caro’s work is exhaustive and complete.
Caro doesn't hesitate to give extensive treatment equally to Johnson's strengths and weaknesses, both of which seem to have been monumental. While he was devious, lying, manipulative, ruthless, driven, subject to lightening-quick mood changes; he also had a genuine liberal bent toward the less favored in our society, toward social justice, and toward promoting improvements in our nation's treatment of the individual.
I can see how citizens, based on which of LBJ's policies and actions they were exposed to, could consider him either an evil man or a hero. I've heard people speak about the fiasco of Johnson's Vietnam policy (not covered in this volume), but others praise his significant contributions toward civil rights and the welfare of the underprivileged. Although I have a tendency to rate Presidents as good, bad, or indifferent, I can't characterize Johnson as falling into any of those simplistic categories. From Caro's work, it's obvious that when Johnson was bad, he was very, very bad; and when he was good, he was superb.
Caro emphasizes how depressed Johnson was during his vice-presidency, since he was given virtually no power or attention. I can't say that I blame him for feeling jilted, given the attitudes of the Kennedy power clique, particularly Bobby. But Caro goes on to show how Johnson turned around virtually overnight into a highly effective power-wielding President, once he was in that office. The last part of this volume is indeed an amazing read, as it shows how Johnson kept his negative traits under rigid control during this period, instituted strategies for gaining his ends with Congress, and secured the overwhelming support of the nation for his goals - many of which had been stalled in the legislative process for decades. All in all, this is a splendid read, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the sometimes shocking details, and the sophisticated overall analysis.