- Paperback: 960 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (February 17, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679729453
- ISBN-13: 978-0679729457
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 527 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Mr. Caro does an exhaustive amount of research for all of his books. He writes with polish, providing the reader with not only intricate details but also in a style that is relatively easy to understand.
I say that I am re-reading this first book because I read it 5 years ago and many of the details have faded for me, so I’m back at it again and enjoying every page.
I look forward to the publication of the 5th volume of this series, as Mr. Caro continues his research. The 5th volume will hopefully have a lot of “meat” in it.
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.
I don't know why I was drawn to this book, as I am old enough to remember Johnson and my memories are not fond. The author, at the outset, acknowledges his subject's profound failings. ( To the extent that I wondered why would you want to write about such a despicable character?) My conclusion is that Caro did not confine his research and writing to the man and that is what distinguishes this effort
What I found in this volume was a thoroughly researched history of the geographic, economic, social, political and familial environment that birthed,nurtured and enabled Johnson's intense and hyperfocused ambitions. The descriptions of the "trap" of the Texas Hill Country, the dismal lives of its inhabitants, the US Government's shameful agricultural policy, the effects of the Geat Depession were vivid and enlightening. The descriptions of FDR and his programs made me understand my late father's idolatry.
In chronological order, Caro sets the scene and then shows how Johnson processed this information and stimulus to customize his tactics. Since his initial politicking in college, the foundation of his strategy stayed remarkably consistent with tactical adaptation to circumstance. He employed the most obvious of artifices ( such hyperbolic flattery) to engraciate himself with the powerful and disadvantage his peers to establish himself as a " person of importance" at each rung of his ladder. His ability to identify whom to use ( both above and below) and make them love it was uncanny.
Johnson's drive to distinguish himself from the common did not require moral compromise as he had no moral center or core values to consult. His political philosophy was remarkably flexible - yielding to his superiors in his relentless quest for advancement. He was God's own liberal to Roosevelt and the scourge of liberals to the Texas oilmen simultaneously.
Johnson attacked each challenge with unprecedented energy and creativity. Unfortunately, each such effort left a corrupted legacy. He was indefatigable in his campaign schedules - driving himself and others to exhaustion. His campaign financing practices outdid his predecessors in rapaciousness, laying the foundation for the current day systematic shakedown of and pandering to wealthy special interests. He perfected the Texas art form of vote rigging and buying. ( with one costly omission in his first Senate race). At each turn, he surveyed the landscape, quickly perceived how he could turn circumstance to his advantage through ingenious actions executed with consummate energy. His volume of personalized correspondence was prodigious ; his use of media ground- breaking. Anyway, this is what Caro thinks and his narrative contrasting Johnson's practices with those prevailing seem to support his argument.
To give the devil his due, Johnson was consummately imaginative and energetic, but he left the political landscape the poorer for his efforts. He took a bad system and made it worse and I saw the beginnings of so much that is wrong today in what I read.
Some niggling questions are - Johnson's relationship with Sam Rayburn and some of Sam's actions. I did not quite understand their relationship during and after the "Cactus Jack" presidential bid. Also Lady Bird is a cipher in this tale. Maybe she was. Is she hardly mentioned because she was shunted aside/forgotten by her husband or by the author?