Master of the Senate

Caro, Robert. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2009.

Reason read: to finish (finally, finally!) the series started in February in honor of Presidents Day.

This was a chore for me. For one, I have never been a huge history buff. Secondly, Caro painted Johnson to be such a lying and bullying politician in the first book that I didn’t think I wanted to know anything more about him, as master of the senate, future president, or not. To say that Master of the Senate is well researched is an understatement. This biography goes well beyond Lyndon’s life. Like Path to Power and Means of Ascent before it, Master of the Senate broad in its scope and extremely thorough.

Book trivia: Master of the Senate won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Presidential Biographies (p 192).

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).

Path to Power

Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1982.

Reason read: Presidents Day is celebrated in February and Johnson was our 36th President of the United States.

Here’s what I knew about Johnson before reading Caro’s book: sworn in as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Came into office as the “Great Society” President because he carried Kennedy’s platform: he cared about social issues such as education, civil rights and anti-poverty. He left office as the “Baby Killer” President because he had led the United States further into the Vietnam war. Here’s what I learned about President Johnson after reading Caro’s first book: Johnson was a pathological liar about his childhood and personal life, was a genius for secrecy, and was a terrible kid growing up. He was constantly disobeying his parents, had no respect for his father, even disliked reading books…that didn’t change once he got to college, nor did it sit well with me. He continue to lie and manipulate like Othello’s Iago throughout his entire life. His hunger for power was displayed in odd ways (like forcing assistants to converse with him while he was on the toilet).

In the very beginning of Path to Power Caro introduces his readers to Hill Country Texas, setting the stage of poverty as the very first driving force behind Johnson’s ruthless ambition. Subsequently, every following chapter is scaffolded (my word) by the political and economic climate and influential people of the time. As a result, Path to Power appears to veer off topic from time to time. It also creates a wordiness and heft to the biography that some deem unnecessary.

Author fact: Caro has his own website here.

Book trivia: Path to Power is the first book in what was supposed to be the Years of Lyndon Johnson trilogy. Those three books are on my list. However, a fourth book, The Passage of Power covers years 1958 to 1964.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter obviously and logically called “Presidential Biographies” (p 193). Note: it would have been awesome to biographies of each president right up to publication date. I would have liked to have read Jimmy Carter, Rutherford B. Hayes or even William Harrison.