The Years of Lyndon Johnson

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The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson by American writer Robert Caro. Four volumes have been published, running to more than 3,000 pages in total, detailing Johnson's early life, education, and political career. A fifth volume will deal with the bulk of Johnson's presidency. The series is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Book One: The Path to Power (1982)[edit]

In the first volume, The Path to Power, Caro retraced Johnson's early life growing up in the Texas Hill Country and Washington, D.C.. (Caro moved to these areas for months to interview numerous people who knew Johnson and his family.) This volume covers Johnson's life through his failed 1941 campaign for the United States Senate. This book was released on November 12, 1982. It won the 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a finalist for the 1983 National Book Award, hardcover autobiography or biography.[1]

Book Two: Means of Ascent (1990)[edit]

In the second volume, Means of Ascent, Caro detailed Johnson's life from the aftermath of Johnson's first bid to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. Much of the book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested Democratic primary against Coke R. Stevenson in that year. The book was released on March 7, 1990.

Book Three: Master of the Senate (2002)[edit]

In the third volume, Master of the Senate, Caro chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent in United States Congress, including his tenure as Senate majority leader. This 1,167-page work examines in particular Johnson's battle to pass a landmark civil rights bill through Congress without it tearing apart his party, whose southern bloc was anti-civil rights with the northern faction more supportive of civil rights. Although its scope was limited, the ensuing Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first such legislation since the Reconstruction era. The book was released on April 23, 2002. It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, the 2002 National Book Award for Nonfiction,[2] and the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography.

Book Four: The Passage of Power (2012)[edit]

In the fourth volume, The Passage of Power, Caro covers Johnson's life from 1958 to 1964, the challenges Johnson faced upon his assumption of the presidency, and the significant accomplishments in the months after Kennedy’s assassination.[3] The 736-page book was released on May 1, 2012. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography),[4] the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography),[5] the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013), and the American History Book Prize (2013).[6] It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012).[7] It was selected as one of Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (non-fiction #2).

Book Five[edit]

In November 2011, Caro estimated that the fifth and final volume would require another two to three years to write.[8] In March 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume.[9] As of April 2014, he was continuing to research the book.[10]

Themes of the series[edit]

Throughout the biography, Caro examines the acquisition and use of political power in American democracy, from the perspective both of those who wield it and those who are at its mercy. In an interview with Kurt Vonnegut and Daniel Stern, he once said: "I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," saying he wanted instead "to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times—particularly political power."[11]

Caro's books portray Johnson as alternating between scheming opportunist and visionary progressive. Caro argued, for example, that Johnson's victory in the 1948 runoff for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate was achieved through extensive fraud and ballot stuffing. Caro also highlights some of Johnson's campaign contributions, such as those from the Texas construction firm Brown & Root; in 1962 the company was acquired by another Texas firm, Halliburton, which became a major contractor in the Vietnam War. Despite these criticisms, Caro's portrayal of Johnson also notes his struggles on behalf of progressive causes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Influence of the series[edit]

Politicians in particular have responded most strongly to The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

  • Tom Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, once told the newspaper Roll Call after reading Master of the Senate that "I think the thing you learn from reading that magnificent book is that every day, this body makes history."
  • Walter Mondale, a former US vice president, described Master of the Senate as a "superb work of history."
  • Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, said of the series: "It's a wonderfully written set of books. The stories are quite breathtaking ... These books challenge the view of history that politics is just about individual maneuvering. It's about ideas and principled policy achievements. That's what makes it one of the great political biographies."
  • William Hague, a former British Conservative Party leader and foreign secretary, nominated Means of Ascent as the book he would most like to have with him on a desert island, in the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. He later wrote: "I explained that it was the best political biography of any kind, that I had ever read. I said it conveyed more brilliantly than any other publication what it really feels like to be a politician ... When a fourth volume finally completes the set, this will be nothing short of a magnificent history of 20th century America."
  • Michael Howard, another former Conservative Party leader, encountered the series after swapping houses with Caro for a holiday. He said, "For Caro, writing a biography is writing a thriller—in Johnson's case, a Western. You can't stop turning the pages. He doesn't like Johnson, but the facts are there so you can make your own judgments. I can't recommend this book highly enough."

See Also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 1982. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 0679729453). xxiii + 882 p. + 48 p. of plates: illus.
  • Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. 1990. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 067973371X). xxxiv + 506 pp.
  • Caro, Robert A., Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2002. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0394720954). xxiv + 1167 pp.
  • Caro, Robert A., The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2012. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0375713255). 736 pp.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  2. ^ "National Book Awards – 2002". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20. (With acceptance speech.)
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (April 29, 2012). "A Nation’s Best and Worst, Forged in a Crucible". New York Times. 
  4. ^ John Williams (March 1, 2013). "Robert A. Caro, Ben Fountain Among National Book Critics Circle Winners". New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ Staff writer (April 19, 2013). "Announcing the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners". LA Times. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  6. ^ Jennifer Schuessler (February 20, 2013). "Another Prize for Robert Caro". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ "National Book Award Finalists Announced Today". Library Journal. October 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (November 1, 2011). "APNewsBreak: Caro's fourth LBJ book coming in May". CNSNews.com. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  9. ^ Erik Spanberg (March 8, 2013). "Catching up with award-winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  10. ^ Patrick Beach (April 5, 2014). "Caro, LBJ biographer, is hard at work on book No. 5". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  11. ^ Barbara Stone, ed. (1999). "The Round Table: Fiction, Biography And The Use Of Power". Hampton Shorts (Water Mill, N.Y.: Hamptons Literary Publications) IV. ISBN 0965865223. 

External links[edit]