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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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Top Customer Reviews
Aside from the significance of the year, I would like to emphasize what a truly exciting read this volume is. I was utterly enthralled to read about what unfolded next in the battle for the democratic candidacy for Texas' senatorial seat. This in spite of the fact that everyone reading the book already knows the outcome. Many have said that this is a hatchet job on LBJ. While this is not a positive portrait of LBJ as a moral figure, it praises him highly as a calculating politician--possibly one of the greatest of all times. The other thing to remember is that Caro is highlighting an election in 1940s Texas, which has always been notorious for corruption in politics (witness the cartoonish and stranger-than-fiction Pappy O'Daniel). The difference in this case was that Coke Stevenson was not as willing to accept that corruption as LBJ was. It is also a lament for the loss of politicians like Stevenson, who one feels Caro holds in much higher regard than LBJ, as will most readers--despite political leanings--once they complete this volume.
This volume is--hands down--one of the most exciting books I have read in a long time. I found it fascinating and could not put it down. I look forward to moving on to the third volume (The Master of the Senate) but I fear how long I will have to wait for the next volume after that.
However, Caro's unsparing portrait of LBJ as a power-obsessed liar and bully who would stop at nothing to succeed greatly offended many of LBJ's associates whom Caro had interviewed, as well as liberal historians who cherished Johnson's activism on Civil Rights and other liberal causes (and who conveniently wanted to forget Johnson's record in Vietnam and elsewhere). Many of Caro's sources have refused to be interviewed for his later books on Johnson, and historians such as Robert Dallek have written their own LBJ biographies in which they specifically single out and criticize Caro's view of Johnson. Yet far from disproving his arguments, the release of once-secret documents about Vietnam, as well as other biographies written over the last 20 years, have only confirmed many of Caro's assertions about Johnson. LBJ's bullying of even his closest aides, his vote-stealing in his 1948 Senate election, his illegal business schemes that allowed him to go from being literally "dirt poor" to a multimillionaire on a government worker's salary, his shameless brown-nosing of powerful politicians and businessmen, even while he had love affairs with their wives and girlfriends - all of the allegations made by Caro in 1982 have since been confirmed elsewhere. The fact that Lyndon Johnson was a lousy human being shouldn't be blamed on Caro - he simply dug up the facts (much of which Johnson had tried to hide from the public, such as cutting out all the unflattering photos of himself in hundreds of his college's yearbooks!)
Yet despite the shocking and disturbing revelations in this book, Caro does seem to have a sneaking admiration for Johnson's unceasing drive and energy - the LBJ who emerges in this book may be unappealing in many ways, yet he also manages to move his beloved Hill Country into the twentieth century with cheap electrical power, good roads and schools, and other modern conveniences which its residents might never have gotten without his help. There are flashes in this book (albeit only briefly) of the more appealing LBJ that shows up in Caro's sequels to this biography - the college student who teaches English at a mostly Mexican-American school in Texas and genuinely tries to help his students succeed; the young man who begins to develop a real feeling and concern for America's poor and needy. If Caro's thesis is that even the most self-centered and crass politicians can still do some good, then in Lyndon Johnson he has found his perfect subject. And, it's worth noting that while Robert Dallek and others may have criticized Caro's "interpretation" of Lyndon Johnson, not one of his critics has dared to challenge Caro's research or findings. Indeed, many of his critics have shamelessly used Caro's findings to try and support their own agendas. However, given that it was Caro who actually did the interviews and legwork, and given his unprecedented familiarity with Johnson's life, background, and career, it's difficult not to believe that Caro has a much better view of the "real" LBJ than any of his critics. If you're looking for a book that has passages that will stick in your memory for years, and which gives a view of a great American politician's early life which puts all others to shame, then the "Path to Power" will not be a disappointment. Superb!
Many have criticized Caro (John Connelly most vociferously) for being overly critical of Johnson. I share this concern and feel he sometimes bends over backwards to "stick it to" Johnson. Caro has said repeatedly that he will deal with LBJ's Presidency with a more charitible outlook and this is to be hoped.
I am an unabashed fan of Lyndon Johnson and this will stand as the definitive biography of him for many years. Though it's caustic and critical, it's so beautifully written you can read it again and again. A masterpiece of biography.