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Showing 1-10 of 244 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 399 reviews
on December 28, 2016
I've spent the last several months reading this book, interrupting to read my book club fiction each month. The book is dense, but riveting enough to draw me back after each break for fiction. I thought that I had a good handle on civics until I read the history of the Senate that Caro provides in the first chapters. That history is a must read. I read this book after reading Caro's "Passage of Power". That book left me wanting to know more about Lyndon Johnson. "Master of the Senate" does a marvelous job of painting a picture of a very complex, very wily, very driven politician. Caro's detailed description of how Johnson managed to get the flawed, but significant voting rights bill of 1957 passed is truly fascinating. I'm old enough to remember following so much of what Caro covers, and appreciate the opportunity to see what went on behind the headlines. Now I want to go back to "Passage of Power" and review just how Johnson got the Civil Rights Bill passed. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how our Senate works. It's hard work, but well worth the time and effort.
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In Master of the Senate book three of Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson, one is first struck by something that we rarely see in historical biography in that the institution of the United States Senate that Lyndon Johnson entered in 1949 is a character in itself. Caro spends roughly 100 pages of the 1034 talking about the procedures, customs and history that had transformed the Senate from the great hall of debate the Founding Fathers wanted into a progress inhibiting body where legislation goes to die because of its unique institutions.

Master of the Senate can intimidate on sheer size alone, but it really doesn’t feel like over a thousand pages as one gets lost in these intricately woven tales and personalities such as Richard Russell, the Leland Olds affair, Lyndon Johnson as institution wrangler, and the intrigue over the 1956 Presidential Nomination among others. Caro once again excels at going in depth in creating these larger than life characters and situations. One feels the rage of Estes Kefauver as he’s passed over for Foreign Relations or Richard Russell’s loneliness, for example.

Lyndon Johnson is of course still Lyndon Johnson. Readers who revel in Johnson’s backroom deal making and questionably immoral behavior will find plenty to sink their teeth into as anything that could help him gain more power is seized on and we see his political genius in the 1957-58 fight over getting a civil rights bill through the Senate. This volume presents a more complex portrait of Johnson as caught between ambition and perhaps genuine feelings for minorities that often leaves the reader unsure of the truth.

I don’t know that anyone’s opinion of Lyndon Johnson will change through Master of the Senate, but it does present more nuance than the utter contempt the first two volumes of the series inspired.
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VINE VOICEon September 6, 2015
“The Master of the Senate” is the third volume in Robert Caro’s extraordinary biography: “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”. It is a monumental piece of work that encompasses some 1,167 pages. If one is to read this book, one must be prepared to make a not insignificant investment of one’s time. This is no light and breezy book. Rather, it is a serious piece of biographical literature.

This third volume begins with a one hundred odd page history of the US Senate itself. Caro is setting the scene of the emergence of Lyndon Johnson and the institution over which he will dominate from 1949 until his investiture as Vice President in January 1960.

As with the previous two volumes, I found it impossible to like Johnson. He was a cheat who effectively stole the election of 1948 for his Senate seat. He was a misogynist; he was a man of foul personal habits; he treated his wife appallingly but, above all, he was a master politician. And, to succeed in the Senate and elsewhere, politics and its manipulation was the final arbiter. Johnson was truly brilliant in this regard.

I am unable to reach a conclusion as to how Robert Caro felt about Johnson. However, I believe this an indication of Caro being an exceptional writer of biography. Caro has produced a remarkably even handed book even if this reader was to build a dislike for the man who would become Vice President.

To any student of American history, Robert Caro’s books are an essential library component. I cannot but bow before the depth of Caro’s research. This work is a masterpiece.
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on June 1, 2015
Simply amazing series of books on LBJ by Robert Caro. I started reading the first book in the series because I had to and read all the rest because it was fascinating. These books are about so much more than LBJ. I now understand how the U.S. Senate and House of Representative works, how and why civil rights are they way they are today and so much more about the world from the early 1900s through the 1960s and how this period shaped the world today. It also made me appreciate how any politician who becomes President pretty much has to be honest, cuthroat, kind, vicious, visionary, self-serving, and all the facets of humanity you can think of. The biggest takeaway message is Caro's assertion that while power may sometimes corrupt, what it always does is reveal. The next time you find yourself saying that power did this or that to someone, ask yourself what it revealed. It's so much more interesting!
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on April 13, 2015
Master of the Senate is a quite valuable and often entertaining account of LBJ's tenure as US Senate majority leader. But at over 1000 pages of length, I believe it could have been trimmed considerably and gain much more in readability and coherence than it would have lost in completeness; in other words, Alfred Knopf publishers should have wielded the editor's pencil with a bit more temerity. Is Mr. Caro attempting to write literature or history? I'm not certain he really knows, and often the narrative is an uneasy amalgam of both--too stylized in some parts, not rigorous enough in others. Perhaps 'character study' is the best description, and it may be that it's in describing with pitiless detail the supremely selfish and ruthless Lyndon Johnson, that Caro makes the greatest contribution: seldom have I encountered a more naked, repellent portrait of single-minded thirst for power as the one the author brilliantly compiles. Caro also does a very good job of taking the reader inside the tactical and strategic workings of passing or obstructing legislation in the senate, the cynical back-room deal-making, even threatening at which LBJ excelled Morality, friendship, legality, the lives or reputations of others, family, wife, children, even his own health--even, or especially, this little thing called 'truth', nothing stood in the way of LBJ's pursuit of power. And not even America, because LBJ pursued his own agenda of advancement, even to the detriment of the nation he supposedly served. Now, having done great service in immortalizing a monster of egotism, this is where Caro, in my opinion, fails to consummate the conclusion he had inexorably brought his readers to: that LBJ was an SOB, and that if an SOB can thrive in the US political system then, ipso facto, this has to mean that something is fundamentally very, very wrong in Washington DC, not just in the personalities and the parties, but in the architecture of political power as practiced under the Capitol Dome (and in the lobbyist's hotel suites) itself. Did Caro, as Bob Woodward, as he wrote exposes of the government, get too close to the subject, the establishment, and, to some extent, become co-opted by it, skewing his conclusions, if only unconsciously? Caro suggests that, yes, well LBJ, was an SOB, but hell, only an SOB could have engineered such legislative triumphs as the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (according to Caro, the first successful civil rights legislation passed for 85 years), and, later of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Caro seems to be on solid ground in this contention; after all, isn't this the consensus, that surprisingly, the conservative Texan ends up being the 'savior' of Black folk in America. Caro basically says that if not for LBJ's ingenious maneuvering, civil rights would not have progressed, and that, sure, he gutted the 1957 bill of much substance, but still, he got things moving. I'm not so sure of this, of the 'Great Men' of History theory, that if LBJ had succumbed to his big heart attack in 1955, there would have been no progress, that he was instrumental. The injustice done to Black people was real, it was bad, and with TV, and the rise of Black voting constituencies in the North (which Caro does allude to), something HAD to happen, and it would have happened with LBJ, or without him, and, potentially, it would have been even more meaningful. Is social and political change something conceded and directed from above, or does it issue from the people themselves? If the Southern Caucus under Russell had continued filibustering and obstructing, the pressure would probably have only gotten greater and greater, the clashes more frequent, more intense, the publicity more damaging. LBJ, by dampening the process (as Caro documents, not for the good of America, let alone for the good of Black people, but for the good of his consuming lust for the Presidency, to which patching together a North-South Democratic compromise was key) did hasten passage of a nominal civil rights bill, but this arguably hindered rather than helped civil rights, and ultimately, the United States as well, because the blight of institutionalized racism weakens the whole country by consigning millions of our people to a 'less than human status' and diminishes the contributions they can make to our society. Is this a stylistic device also, the seeming paradox that this villain, in the end, did something virtuous? I wonder; in the previous volume, Means of Ascent, it seemed that Caro had similarly created and accentuated a dramatic contrast between Coke Stevenson and LBJ in the 1948 Texas US Senate election; is something similar going on here; the darkness of LBJ's compulsive drive for power, relieved by the light of an ultimate redemption via his championing of civil rights, a happy ending of sorts?
A quick note on some small matters of detail: on page 1027, Caro, writing about the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, by the USSR, writes: "The launchings showed that the Russians had indeed developed rockets with more thrust than America's, but it was not thrust but rather the rocket's accuracy and the destructive power of the nuclear warheads they carried that would count in war." Well, the last bit, to me doesn't make sense: the destructive power of a nuclear warhead (especially in those early days) depended on the amount of fissile material it carried, and whether it was a fission (A) or fission-fusion (H) device, meaning the total energy of the explosion does ultimately hinge on how much uranium and plutonium is in the device, and YES, this means thrust does matter, because the more your rocket can lift, the bigger, or the more numerous, your warheads can be. On the same page, Caro also writes: "Quite sure of these facts (the USA's nuclear weapon superiority vis a vis the USSR) in part because of amazingly detailed photographic evidence from U-2s, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft that overflew the USSR at heights of up to 15,000 feet (sic)." This couldn't be a simple typo, inverting 15,000, rather than 51,000, it seems to be just plain bad proofreading or 'proof thinking', because military aircraft were already reaching heights in excess of 20,000 during the later stages of the 1914-1918 war. And finally: based on the copious, copious anecdotes--many of them not from enemies of LBJ, but his friends and associates-- in this book, and in Means of Ascent, there can be little doubt that Lyndon Baines Johnson would have been perfectly capable of crimes, and even of being associated in a murder, if such crime(s) would have brought him the power he desired above ALL else, so yes, LBJ, judging from Caro's very thorough character study, could have been a party to a plot to assassinate JFK. I am not saying that LBJ was complicit in such a conspiracy, just that it appears that he would have been morally capable of it.
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on April 17, 2017
This is a great series of books. The history lesson is fantastic. I skimmed through portions of this volume. It tended to drag around too much in senate procedure. Still a must read. The Civil Rights battles of this time are fascinating.
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on June 14, 2014
What's to like about this book? For me, a political junkie, virtually everything. I thought I knew a lot about Lyndon Johnson, but Caro's book reveals that I had perhaps barely scratched the surface, even though my grad studies in political science focused on American national government and politics, particularly the U.S. Senate and the presidency. I knew Johnson was crude, a master manipulator, volatile in his relations with all types of people (his secretaries, other U.S. Senators, his family), and that his appetite for power was insatiable. But the stories told in this book, recounted in significant detail, are almost unbelievable. How could a man treat people this way and still march to the pinnacle of power? The answer is that he attained power in great measure simply because of this behavior and his uncanny ability to manipulate people. He could grovel in his relationship with a Senator, for example, till he had that person hooked, then turn on the heat and demand conformity to his own goals and methods.

Caro does not intend to trash Johnson. I don't enjoy bios that seek relentlessly to destroy political figures, and this book is certainly not in that category. Caro has much to say in Johnson's favor, and in fact does not rail against bad aspects of his behavior. Instead, he simply presents the evidence and allows readers to judge the extent to which Johnson was an effective and/or a ruthless politician - both?

In the main, "Master of the Senate" covers Johnson's Senate career from 1949 through his "rise" to the vice presidency in January, 1961. I've already read the next volume, which covers the vice presidential years and the first months of Johnson's presidency, and realize he was not a happy camper during the vice presidential years, having gone from supreme power in the Senate to the state of being virtually ignored by the Kennedy administration from January 20, 1961 till November 22, 1963.

Caro elaborates on at least two major conflicting tendencies in Johnson's political maneuvers. First, he was tied to the South, being a Senator from Texas at a time when virtually all Southern Senators were both Democrats and totally against any civil rights legislation. Yet Johnson, who lusted after the presidency, knew he could not attain that office as a Southerner. How he attempts both to satisfy the South (as a means of maintaining his Senate seat) and also use the Southern block as a major base of national power is a fascinating story. Second, Johnson's roots made him a genuine friend of the poor and disenfranchised. How could he be against civil rights, yet still true to his roots? That also involved massive manipulations. In retrospect, Johnson is lauded for his decisive role in forwarding the cause of civil rights during his first years in the presidency, and the plaudits are well deserved. But he also pushed through a very weak civil rights bill during his time in the Senate. However, was that because he believed in the cause, or because he felt it was the only way to promote himself as a viable presidential candidate in 1960?

Although Johnson's family is not a major aspect of Caro's coverage, Lady Bird does make occasional cameo appearances, which leads to even more astonishment as to how LBJ could mistreat people. Johnson routinely ordered Lady Bird around whenever they entertained (treating her in a manner that should not be acceptable for servants), yet he could also be loving and understanding. In contrast, Lady Bird idolized him. Meanwhile, Johnson spent very little time with his two daughters. It was politics, politics, politics - 24/7.

"Master of the Senate" also reveals how dysfunctional the "greatest deliberative body in the world" was during the entire Johnson era, with legislation in thrall to the Southern block's adamant refusal to countenance any civil rights legislation, or anything else on which they could present a united front. So, as we consider how dysfunctional Congress is today, we might do well to think back to a similar situation in multiple decades during the twentieth century and wonder how long the federal government is fated to continue on its current course. Two cheers for democracy?
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on June 20, 2017
BEWARE "Add Audible Narration" - it only includes the first of three volumes, and you will have to pay quite a lot to additionally purchase the final two audio volumes. As far as the book, extremely detailed yet excellent, as expected.
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on April 19, 2015
Caro is by far the best historian in the United States, if you ask me. This is part three of four volumes. If you are not up to reading all four, i recommend this and the first one. Master of the Senate includes a first-rate history of the Senate itself, the tremendous power exercised by it's leader and committees (then as now largely dominated by southerners, though Kentucky is technically a border state). Caro actually followed LBJ's footsteps -- his early morning climb up the Capitol steps -- to get a better idea of what motivated him, and spent decades researching each of these incredible histories. He's also a terrific writer!
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on March 16, 2013
If you have read Caro (I have finished all but Vol 4 of LBJ), I feel compelled to state what would have been unthinkable after finishing the epic Power Broker a couple years ago: The Master of the Senate is Caro in top form.

If the Power Broker could be labeled as Caro's redefinition of investigative reporting, then Master of the Senate is an epic essay in the highest order (and also, as a pull quote refers to, as "epic poetry"). It is worth reflecting on the urgency and thrust of The Power Broker, written during the 1970s as NYC fell apart around Caro, compared to the majestic arc rendered by Caro of Johnson becoming 'Master of the Senate'.

A grand 100 page introduction of the Senate creates an institution as a character (much like Caro did with NYC in Power Broker), but one with even more clarity, more complexity and more power. Just as Johnson states that that the Senate was "the right size" for his future plans, it also seems like Caro found the right size. This volume, written 30 years into investigating Johnson and half a century removed from the years of the 1950s, seems to have brought out the very best in this master storyteller.

It is an unforgettable book. Not only for the ever-lasting portrait of Johnson that Caro endlessly (fantastically) debates and re-forms with each page, but also for the portrait of the nation's leaders grappling with a changing world in the 1950s
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