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Master of the Senate (2002)

by Robert A. Caro

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2,308386,607 (4.6)108
Master of the Senate, Book Three of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, carries Johnson's story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.   It was during these years that all Johnson's experience--from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine--came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term-the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate's hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the "unchangeable" Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.   Caro demonstrates how Johnson's political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust--or at least the cooperation--of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson's ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights. In a breathtaking tour de force, Caro details Johnson's amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.   Master of the Senate, told with an abundance of rich detail that could only have come from Caro's peerless research, is both a galvanizing portrait of the man himself--the titan of Capital Hill, volcanic, mesmerizing--and a definitive and revelatory study of the workings and personal and legislative power.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
When this book was published, Robert Caro made the rounds on the more cerebral talk shows in electronic media, and I heard him talk about this book on Charlie Rose among other places. I don't remember if he said that he would write a fourth volume on Lyndon Johnson's presidency. In spite of some weariness (I've read all three volumes of this biography in the past year) with the subject, I hope Mr. Caro does apply his magisterial research and writing skills to those years of Lyndon Johnson's career.
I rate this book four stars--for it certainly, objectively rates five--for highly subjective reasons: this is more a book about the United States Senate and the byzantine manner with which in functions (or doesn't), and the gravamen of this book is that body's manifold attempts in the late 1950s to pass civil rights legislation. Because Lyndon Johnson is widely regarded as a leader on civil rights, Mr. Caro writes and analyzes how Senator Lyndon Johnson bent the Senate to his considerable will and, quietly but effectively, scuttled one civil rights bill after another.
Much of the analysis of the functions of the Senate works to show just how Lyndon Johnson was able to do this; I understand the purpose of all this--to maintain the high standard of scholarly disinterest, and therefore integrity, that Robert Caro sets for himself. Nonetheless, I found much of the narrative on the Senate itself exhausting and repetitious, and therefore give this book a highly subjective four star rating.
  Mark_Feltskog | Dec 23, 2023 |
As literature, this third volume is superior even to the fascinating first. Its focus is tightly on Johnson's Senate career and the narrative arc is compelling: the moribund Senate, controlled by the dead hand of the Southern Democrats, is taken over by LBJ in a masterclass of political genius, as he again discerns and creates a power-base where none previously existed, then uses it to thread a civil rights bill (1957) through the eye of a needle to bolster his presidential ambitions. Caro is still given to occasional prolixity (he did a great job on Robert Moses' biography in the space of one fifth of his Johnson life) though less so than in volume one; an abridgement of about 1,500 pages for the whole set of books would be useful. But along with his Moses book, this is indispensable reading on how geniuses of political power build and deploy it. ( )
  fji65hj7 | May 14, 2023 |
Robert Caro continues to prove why he's one of the Best biographers out there. He does such a fantastic job of really putting everything into as much context as he can so you're not getting a distorted view. Civil rights is the main issue discussed in this volume, and Caro gives excellent overview of the development of the civil rights movement to set the stage for the legislative battles that follow. But the best is Caro clearly doesn't fall into the trap some biographers do where he ends up either praising or vilifying his subject. Caro does give Johnson a lot of credit for getting some of the first civil rights legislation passed, but also thoroughly documents how watered down LBJ made that legislation. And he doesn't outright proclaim Johnson as either racist or not racist, but rather thoroughly documents Johnson's public vs. private statements and actions, and compares them to those around him to show where he was ahead of the times, and in many cases, honestly bigoted and behind the times. I'm really looking forward to book 4 and can't wait for book 5 to be published. ( )
  James_Knupp | Mar 4, 2023 |
Another brilliant volume by Robert Caro. Not only does he exhaustively and vividly narrate the events of LBJ's life and political career, Caro also manages to provide the reader with a master course in parliamentary procedure. ( )
  fopling | Jun 7, 2022 |
So thoroughly well-researched and well-written covering much of the history of the US, not just LBJ. ( )
  eatonphil | May 8, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
It makes a wonderful, a glorious tale. The book reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and the gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does. I laughed often as I read. And even though I knew what the outcome of a particular episode would be, I followed Caro's account of it with excitement. I went back over chapters to make sure I had not missed a word.
 
In the 1957 civil rights battle, ambition and compassion were finally mixed in the perfect combination for Lyndon Johnson and the country. The same can be said for Robert A. Caro, whose chronicle of Lyndon B. Johnson's outsize life has finally, too, been told with perfect balance.
 
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Epigraph
I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me.  I know where to look for it, and how to use it.
- Lyndon Baines Johnson
Dedication
For Ina, always
and for Bob Gottlieb
Thirty years.  Four books.  Thanks.
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(Introduction) The room on the first floor of the Barbourville County Courthouse in the little town of Eufala, Alabama, was normally the County Clerk's Office, but after it had closed for the day on August 2, 1957, it was being used by the county's Board of Registrars, the body that registered citizens so they could vote in elections - not that the Board was going to register any of the three persons who were applying that day, for the skin of these applicants was black.
The Chamber of the United States Senate was a long, cavernous space - over a hundred feet long.
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Master of the Senate, Book Three of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, carries Johnson's story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.   It was during these years that all Johnson's experience--from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine--came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term-the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate's hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the "unchangeable" Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.   Caro demonstrates how Johnson's political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust--or at least the cooperation--of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson's ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights. In a breathtaking tour de force, Caro details Johnson's amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.   Master of the Senate, told with an abundance of rich detail that could only have come from Caro's peerless research, is both a galvanizing portrait of the man himself--the titan of Capital Hill, volcanic, mesmerizing--and a definitive and revelatory study of the workings and personal and legislative power.

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