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The Passage of Power (2012)

by Robert A. Caro

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1,0952812,789 (4.55)88
Pulitizer Prize biographer Robert A. Caro follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career, describing Johnson's volatile relationship with John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy during the fight they waged for the 1960 Democratic nomination for president, through Johnson's unhappy vice presidency, his assumption to the presidency after Kennedy's assassination, his victories over the budget and civil rights, and the eroding trap of Vietnam.… (more)

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» See also 88 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Thought I would just dip and out of this weighty tome, picking and choosing certain topics, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Wrong!! Caro’s lively storytelling, keen sense of detail, thoughtful reflections, and compelling portraits of key individuals completely drew me in. I found this to be a quick read despite the size of the biography. The first third (roughly) of the book focuses on Johnson’s botched bid for the presidency in 1960, acceptance of the vice presidency, and years in that second office. Despite the fact that his bread and butter had always been his ability to read individuals quickly and accurately and determine their strengths and weaknesses , he failed to do so with John F. Kennedy. After failing to gain a real measure of the man during the 1960 campaign for presidential nomination, Johnson compounded this by thinking he could steamroll Kennedy into giving him more power and access than any previous vice president. Kennedy easily dismissed this. If he failed to include Johnson in important legislative strategy discussions – a place the Texan could have greatly benefitted the administration – it is due to in some measure to the vice president’s behavior when he was around the president. For example, Johnson rarely spoke out in meetings, even though he frequently shared his misgivings with others. Johnson’s constant and tactless pleading for appointments, photo-ops, and other considerations did not help either. Lastly, Johnson’s long running feud with Robert Kennedy further alienated him from the inner circle. Caro devotes considerable time discussing the relationship between these two men. Clearly, he will return to this theme in the next and final volume. Yet, President Kennedy intended to keep Johnson on the ticket because he needed Texas, or so it seemed until September 1963. A combination of the Bobby Baker (a very close Johnson associate and protégé ) scandal splashing across the headlines and Governor John Connally’s (another close Johnson associate and protégé) rapidly ascending influence in Texas hurt the vice president’s chances of remaining on the ticket in 1964. It was the nadir of Johnson’s long career in politics. Then everything changed at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Johnson is at his best from the assassination through to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He consoles the nation, brilliantly steers major legislation through the Congress, establishes himself as president, and inspires bold new action, including the landmark Civil Rights Act. Caro is impressed by these achievements and Johnson’s personal restraint. Throughout this period Johnson contains himself, holding his unpleasant personality traits – his self-pity, need to dominate others, bullying, narcissism, etc. – in check. Unfortunately, that Lyndon Johnson will be back in the next volume when we will see him mix great achievements and terrible disasters. ( )
  gregdehler | Jul 23, 2020 |
Over thirty years have passed since the publication of [b:The Path to Power|86524|The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #1)|Robert A. Caro|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1349023045s/86524.jpg|201695], the first of what Robert Caro envisioned would be a three-volume biography of America’s 36th president. This, his fourth volume, ends in the first months of his presidency, and his assertion that this is the penultimate volume is a little hard to swallow given the thoroughness he has covered Johnson’s life even before reaching his time in the White House (with a third of this book’s 700 pages chronicling just the first four months as president). Yet Caro has sacrificed brevity for a detailed portrait of irony in his depiction of a master of political power who finds himself deprived of it.

Caro begins with Johnson at the height of his success in the Senate. Still only in his second term, he had taken the weak position of Senate Majority Leader and turned it into the second most powerful position in national politics, thanks largely to his enormous personal and legislative abilities. But Johnson had his eye on an even larger prize – the presidency itself, an office he had aspired to for decades and which in 1960 seemed to many to be his for the taking. Yet Johnson hesitated to commit himself to the race, fearing the humiliation of a defeat. This created an opening that John F. Kennedy eagerly exploited. With his brother Robert collecting commitments in the west – a region critical to Johnson’s chances – Kennedy outmaneuvered the Texas senator, demonstrating just how completely Johnson had misjudged his opponent.

Yet for Johnson a new opportunity presented itself when Kennedy offered him the vice presidential nomination during the convention. For Kennedy, the choice was an obvious one, as Johnson’s presence on the ticket offered Democrats a chance to reclaim the Southern states lost to Dwight Eisenhower in the two previous elections. Johnson’s reasons for accepting are less clear, though Caro describes Johnson’s realistic assessment of his odds as vice president of assuming the presidency in his own right, as well as his belief that “Power is where power goes,” a statement that demonstrates his conviction that he would retain his control over the Senate even as vice president.

Johnson was soon disabused of this notion. Blocked from maintaining his position in the Senate’s Democratic caucus and denied any real responsibilities by the Kennedys, Johnson seemed to wither from the absence of power. For all his failings it is hard not to sympathize with the man in these chapters, who works to ingratiate himself with the Kennedys through expensive gifts and obsequious letters. Yet flattery and jewelry did little to improve his standing in the administration, while the growing scandal surrounding his protégé Bobby Baker was exposing the vice president to increased scrutiny of his business dealings. Though Caro doesn’t press his case any further than the evidence allows, his description of the mounting investigations in the autumn of 1963 suggests that Johnson’s position on the ticket the next year was in jeopardy as he left with the president for a campaign trip to Texas.

All of this changed in Dallas in a matter of minutes. Caro’s chapters on Kennedy’s assassination and Johnson’s assumption of the presidency are among the best in the book, as they convey the sense of bewilderment, tragedy, and sadness which stained that day. Here we see Johnson’s abilities employed to their fullest to reassure a shocked nation of the smooth transition of power. Within days of Kennedy’s funeral the new president took charge of his predecessor’s stalled legislative agenda, working to pass a tax cut bill and civil rights legislation that few expected would become law. Here Caro exploits the numerous telephone conversations the president secretly recorded to depict Johnson’s use of political power, as he threatened, cajoled, and wooed senators and representatives in an effort to attain his goals. The book ends in March 1964, with Johnson fully settled into his office and with the challenge before him of election in his own right, a challenge that – if successful – would complete his journey from the Texas Hill Country to the highest office in the land.

As with his previous volumes Caro has provided a meticulous, painstaking study of the life and career of one of the most fascinating men ever to occupy the presidency, a book that measures up to the high standard set by his earlier works. His errors are few and are easily forgiven in a narrative that engages the reader fully and manages to make the minutiae of legislative maneuvering into entertaining reading. Given Caro’s track record, it may be too much to hope that the next volume – final or not – will be published more quickly than this one, but regardless of how long it takes, if it is anywhere near as good as this one it will be well worth the wait. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
Amazing book, very thorough without ever being confusing. The chapters on the time right after the Kennedy assassination were amazing, as was LBJ's masterwork on the Civil Rights legislation. ( )
  Oregonpoet | Jul 12, 2019 |
Another good book in the set. Author is a little prone to chase background material too deeply on marginal people. But very insightful on LBJ's actions and personality.
  pwaldrep | Mar 14, 2019 |
Absolutely fascinating.....it's like a case-study in human nature. One human being can be capable of so much wrong and so much greatness. And reading it during this 2016 election season has been somehow comforting, being reminded that politics has always been brutal. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 28, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Johnson—this is the fourth volume of a planned five—was originally conceived and has been largely executed as a study of power. But this volume has been overtaken by a more pressing theme. It is a study in hate. The book’s impressive architectonics come from the way everything is structured around two poles or pillars—Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, radiating reciprocal hostilities at every step of the story. Caro calls it “perhaps the greatest blood feud of American politics in the twentieth century.” With some reservations about the word “blood,” one has to concede that Caro makes good his claim for this dynamic in the tale he has to tell.
 
What he did to advance civil rights and equal opportunity was too important. I remain grateful to him. L.B.J. got to me, and after all these years, he still does. With this fascinating and meticulous account of how and why he did it, Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.
 
At the heart of “The Passage of Power,” the latest installment of Robert A. Caro’s magisterial biography of Johnson, is the story of how he was catapulted to the White House in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, how he steadied and reassured a shell-shocked nation, and how he used his potent political skills and the momentum generated by Kennedy’s death to push through Congress his predecessor’s stalled tax-cut bill and civil rights legislation and to lay the groundwork for his own revolutionary “war on poverty.”

It’s a breathtakingly dramatic story about a pivotal moment in United States history, and just as Johnson used his accumulated knowledge of the art of power to push the nation along the path he’d envisioned, so in these pages does Mr. Caro use the intimate knowledge of Johnson he’s acquired over 36 years to tell that story with consummate artistry and ardor, demonstrating a tirelessness — in his interviewing and dissection of voluminous archives — that rivals his subject’s.
 
Caro’s treatment of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—and of the roles that Johnson and the Kennedy brothers (especially Robert Kennedy) played in the crisis—is, on several levels, simply wrong.
 
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For Ina
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(Introduction) Air Force One, the President's plane, is divided, behind the crew's cockpit, into three compartments.
When he was young - seventeen and eighteen years old - Lyndon Johnson worked on a road gang that was building a highway (an unpaved highway: roads in the isolated, impoverished Texas Hill Country weren't paved in the 1920s) between Johnson City and Austin.
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The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson


  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English

  • Format: ePub, txt, pdf, doc
  • Size: 7.74 Mb
     

     
    About the Book

    Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.  A masterpiece.”
     
    The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964.  It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.
    By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket. With the consummate skill of a master storyteller, he exposes the savage animosity between Johnson and Kennedy’s younger brother, portraying one of America’s great political feuds. Yet Robert Kennedy’s overt contempt for Johnson was only part of the burden of humiliation and isolation he bore as Vice President. With a singular understanding of Johnson’s heart and mind, Caro describes what it was like for this mighty politician to find himself altogether powerless in a world in which power is the crucial commodity.
                For the first time, in Caro’s breathtakingly vivid narrative, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks—grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own.  This was without doubt Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam.
                In its exploration of this pivotal period in Johnson’s life—and in the life of the nation—The Passage of Power is not only the story of how he surmounted unprecedented obstacles in order to fulfill the highest purpose of the presidency but is, as well, a revelation of both the pragmatic potential in the presidency and what can be accomplished when the chief executive has the vision and determination to move beyond the pragmatic and initiate programs designed to transform a nation.  It is an epic story told with a depth of detail possible only through the peerless research that forms the foundation of Robert Caro’s work, confirming Nicholas von Hoffman’s verdict that “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”
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