I am not a political junkie, but I do try to read at least one presidential biography a year. Admittedly, I didn't know much about Lyndon B. Johnson beyond his association with JFK or the Vietnam War. Now, however, having read The Passage of Power, the fourth installment of Robert Caro's much praised series on Johnson, I have a broader appreciation of the nuances of Senate negotiations and why LBJ was referred to as the "Master of the Senate."
Before I go on, it's worth noting that to enjoy this book, it isn't essential that the reader has read the previous three volumes. This tome, now available in paperback, spans roughly five years, beginning shortly before the 1960 election, through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy's assassination and the transition to Johnson's presidency.
Johnson is complex. Growing up in Texas his family was admired for its leadership and position and then endured a steep fall from grace, stature and wealth. Through it all, Johnson, however proud and awkward, held onto his aspirations to greatness.
Caro methodically documents and compellingly narrates why Johnson is a master of the political arena. It is often said he was the "ultimate salesperson," and because of this gift, and his ability to read a man, he knew how to play the individual to get what he wanted out of him. At times this is awesome and other times frightening. It is hard to discern what his motivation was--if there was any beyond power. Certainly, his legacy has been polished due to his master policy-making and the passage of landmark and important acts including the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Indeed, in consideration of today's political stalemate, there just may be some lessons here on how to negotiate a deal. Caro's careful chronicling of events is a master class in history and writing.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes in Biography; three National Book Critics Circle Awards, for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and Best Biography; the National Book Award; the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist"; and virtually every other major literary honor including the Gold Medal in Biography from the National Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barak Obama. Caro is presently at work on his fifth and final volume of the 36th president.
Same Shelf - Robert Caro
The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
The Years of Lyndon Johnson:
- The Path to Power (1982)
- Means of Ascent (1990)
- Master of the Senate (2002)
Jackie Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Caroline Kennedy and Michael Bescholoss