The Years of Lyndon Johnson
The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson by the 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 has been published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Book One: The Path to Power (1982)
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.
Book Two: Means of Ascent (1990)
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 Senate in 1948. Much of the book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested Democratic primary against Coke R. Stevenson. This book was released on March 7, 1990.
Book Three: Master of the Senate (2002)
In the third volume, Master of the Senate, Caro chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent in the United States Congress, including his tenure as Senate majority leader. This 1167-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 and northern members were more pro-civil rights. Although its scope was limited, the ensuing Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first such legislation since Reconstruction. This book was released on April 23, 2002.
Book Four: The Passage of Power (2012)
In the 736-page 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. The book was released on May 1, 2012.
It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography), the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013), and the American History Book Prize (2013). It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012). It was selected as one of Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (non-fiction #2).
In November of 2011, Caro estimated that the fifth and final volume would require another two to three years to write.
Themes of the series
Throughout his books, 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, 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."
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.
Influence of the series
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Politicians in particular have responded most strongly to The Years of Lyndon Johnson:
- Tom Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, once told the Capitol 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, the current British foreign secretary & former Conservative Party leader, 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 Robert 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."
- Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 1982. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 0394499735). 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 0394528352). xxxiv + 506 pp.
- Caro, Robert A., Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2002. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-394-52836-0). xxiv + 1167 pp.
- Caro, Robert A., The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2012. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-394-52836-0). 736 pp.
- "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "National Book Awards – 2002". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20. (With acceptance speech.)
- Kakutani, Michiko (April 29, 2012). "A Nation’s Best and Worst, Forged in a Crucible". New York Times.
- John Williams (March 1, 2013). "Robert A. Caro, Ben Fountain Among National Book Critics Circle Winners". New York Times. Retrieved March 01, 2013.
- Staff writer (April 19, 2013). "Announcing the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners". LA Times. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
- Jennifer Schuessler (February 20, 2013). "Another Prize for Robert Caro". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
- "National Book Award Finalists Announced Today". Library Journal. October 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
- Official website of Robert Caro
- Booknotes interview with Caro on Means of Ascent, April 29, 1990
- In Depth interview with Caro, April 7, 2002
- C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about the writing of his fourth volume, January 4, 2009
- Part one of C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about the finished book, The Passage of Power, May 6, 2012