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The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) Paperback – February 17, 1990
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The profound understanding of the uses and abuses of power Robert Caro displayed in his 1974 biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, is a scathing achievement the author surpassed with panache in this, his second book. Caro's dogged research and refusal to accept received wisdom results in an eye-opening portrait that unforgettably captures the titanic personality of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973). Though stronger on Johnson's duplicity and naked self-promotion than his intelligence and charm, Caro nails it all. He chronicles the evolution of an attention-demanding youth from the Texas hill country into a seasoned congressman who would abandon his ardent espousal of the New Deal as soon as it ceased to be expedient. The dirty details begin with college elections that earn young Lyndon a reputation as a crook and a liar; Caro goes on to unravel financial shenanigans of impressive ingenuity. Johnson's consuming desire to get ahead and his political genius "unencumbered by philosophy or ideology" are staggering. The White House, Great Society, and Vietnam lie ahead when the main narrative closes in 1941, but the roots of Johnson's future achievements and tragic failures are laid bare. This biography may well stand as the best book written in the second half of the 20th century about personal ambition inextricably linked with historic change. --Wendy Smith
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
"Proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro's evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson's unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually works are---let it be said flat out---at the summit of American historical writing." --Washington Post
"A monumental political saga . . . powerful and stirring. It's an overwhelming experience to read The Path to Power." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times
"Not only a historical but a literary event. An epic biography . . . A sweeping, richly detailed portrait . . . vivid [with] Caro's astonishing concern for the humanity of his characters. An awesome achievement." --Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek
"Stands at the pinnacle of the biographical art." --Donald R. Morris, Houston Post
"The major biography of recent years. Brilliant . . . Magisterial . . . Caro has given us an American life of compelling fascination. A benchmark beside which other biographies will be measured for some time to come." --Alden Whitman, Los Angeles Herald Examiner
"An ineradicable likeness of an American giant. Caro has brought to life a young man so believable and unforgettable that we can hear his heartbeat and touch him." --Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University
" Epic. A brief review cannot convey the depth, range and detail of this fascinating story. Caro is a meticulous historian. Every page reflects his herculean efforts to break through the banalities and the falsehoods previously woven around the life of Lyndon Johnson . . . combines the social scientist's interest in power with the historian's concern with theme and context, the political scientist's interest in system, and the novelist's passion to reveal the inner workings of the personality and relate them to great human issues . . . A monument of interpretive biography." --Michael R. Beschloss, Chicago Sun-Times Book Week
"Splendid and moving. At this rate Caro's work will eventually acquire Gibbon-like dimensions, and Gibbon-like passion. . . . Caro is a phenomenon . . . an artful writer, with a remarkable power to evoke and characterize politicians, landscapes, relationships. This massive book is almost continually exciting." --Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
"By every measure---depth of research, brilliance of conception, the seamless flow of the prose---it is a masterpiece of biography." --Dan Cryer, Newsday
"Extraordinary. A powerful, absorbing, at times awe-inspiring, and often deeply alarming story. A vivid picture of the emergence of one of this century's authentically great politicians." --Alan Brinkley, Boston Sunday Globe
"The book races at Johnson's own whirlwind pace. A tour de force that blends relentless detective work, polemical vigor and artful storytelling into the most compelling narrative of American political life since All the King's Men." --Henry Mayer, San Francisco Chronicle
"A landmark in American political biography. The definitive life of LBJ. Caro has written a Johnson biography that is richer and fuller and may well be one of the freshest and most revealing studies ever written about a major historical figure." --Steve Neal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"A masterful narrative on a grand scale, a fascinating portrait of LBJ's activities set against a fully drawn canvas of life in the Texas hill country. By far the most significant Johnson book to appear." --Library Journal
"No mere political biography. Caro is on the way to becoming our finest fine-tooth-comb historian." --Jack Goodman, Salt Lake Tribune
"Magnificent. For understanding our recent past and the men and policies that brought the country to its present condition and aimed us toward whatever our future is to be, it's an immensely important work." --Bryan Woolley, Dallas Times Herald
"A brilliant and necessary book. There are whole and fascinating areas in Johnson's life that no one else discovered." --Merle Miller, front page, Chicago Tribune Book World
"This is a watershed book. Caro writes with sweek and passion. From the first sentence I was hooked. All other biographies of Johnson pale in comparison." -- Joseph P. Lash
"Engrossing and revealing. This fascinating, immensely long and highly readable book is the fullest account we have--and are ever likely to have--of the early years of LBJ." --David Herbert Donald, front page, NY Times Book Review
"A superb and unique biography...Meticulous in research, grand in scale, this is a major work that will remain a tower of its kind."-- Barbara Tuchman
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Having done time in a 1960s Houston middle and high schools ( in the days when the schools educated), I was given a solid history education. This book has expanded it to understand whence LBJ came, and why populism will rise again.
As I read the chapters on electricity on the farm from my home in the city of Chicago that looks out on Soldier Field, I now understand why the major company that sells our neighborhood Internet service refuses to install fiber optics. Good old copper cable good enough for us they said, with its max 13.6 MBPS.
Caro traces out the architecture of political power, from its foundations in material things (like oil-mens' money, or the physical brutality of agricultural poverty) and ideology, all the way up through its many layers (through patronage, blackmail, and quid-pro-quo relationships) to its manifestation in law and governance.
That is the theme of this book. It uses excellent history and excellent biography in order to exhaustively explain every aspect of power.
It is easy to be intimidated by such a work as that undertaken by Robert Caro. Volume One, “The Path to Power” is some 882 pages in length. Yet, it is so well written. It is a pleasure to read. Caro has produced a masterpiece.
More fascinating that the text itself is the character that it reveals of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Here is the ultimate politician. From his time at school, through his college years and then as a junior congressman, Johnson was always playing the numbers. His desire (even greed) for power was staggering. He would simply blow with the wind in order that he could see a benefit for himself. The character that Caro reveals to the reader is quite unattractive. Indeed, at times, repulsive. In my mind, it is a great shame that he ultimately rose to the most powerful office in the land.
Robert Caro took seven years to write “The Path to Power”. His research was precise and his sources numerous. His effort must be commended. I am amazed that he was to subsequently produce three further massive volumes to round out Johnson’s life. Johnson became Caro’s life work.
There are many who will be put off by the sheer scale of this book. My advice is to disregard such fears. Robert Caro has produced a political tour de force. I look forward to completing the journey.