Means of Ascent

Caro, Robert. Means of Ascent: the Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the series started in February for Presidents Day.

The year is 1941 and Lyndon Johnson is now 32 years old. Caro starts off this second section of the President’s biography by singing the praises of all that Johnson had accomplished at such an early age. The list is impressive, but be forewarned, there is a great deal of word for word repetition from the first book, Path to Power. To name some: Lyndon’s physical appearance as a towering young man with jet black hair; his father as the laughingstock of his town; Lyndon’s scheme to marry for money; Alice Glass teaching him which side of his face was more photogenic; even the “carrying water” note Johnson wrote to Roosevelt is repeated. Confessional: I found myself skimming the word for word parts, looking for the “new” material.
Here are the “new” parts of Lyndon Johnson’s biography. World War II brings Lyndon’s “wartime efforts” which, true to form, are grossly exaggerated. It was almost shameful how this future President of our nation lied about his active duty in combat. It left me with feelings of revulsion. At the same time, Caro’s depiction of Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson holding down the fort in Washington during this time is poignant. His interview with her is touching.
Although Caro is tighter and more focused in his narrative of Means of Ascent, as with Path to Power, he includes a great deal more information than necessary. Case in point, there are over 30 pages dedicated to LBJ’s 1948 opponent, Coke Stevenson and his upbringing. While I appreciated the detail, if I want to read a biography on Coke Stevenson I would find a biography specifically on Coke Stevenson. I feel that the only way to make LBJ the ultimate villain is to exaggerate his competition and make him his opposite in every way.

As an aside, this is an interesting time to be reading about a political campaign.

Book trivia: The photographs are extraordinary.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Presidential Biographies” (p 193).



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