The Years of Lyndon Johnson

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Cover of The Path to Power
Cover of Means of Ascent
Cover of Master of the Senate
Cover of Master of the Senate
Covers of the four published books of the series

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 is expected to deal with the bulk of Johnson's presidency and post-presidential years. 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 working in Washington, D.C. first as a congressional aide and then as a congressman. Caro's research included renting a house in the Hill Country for three years, living there much of that time, to interview numerous people who knew Johnson and his family, and to better understand the environment in which Johnson had grown up.[1]

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.[2]

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 for the U.S. Senate in 1941 to his election to the Senate in 1948. Much of the book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested Democratic primary against Coke R. Stevenson in that year and the Box 13 scandal. 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 the 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 while the northern faction was 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,[3] the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, and the 2002 D.B. Hardeman Prize.[4]

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.[5]

The 736-page book was released on May 1, 2012. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography),[6] the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography),[7] the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013), the American History Book Prize (2013)[8] and the Biographers International Organization's Plutarch Award (2013).[9] It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012).[10] 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—expected to treat the remainder of Johnson's presidency and his life thereafter[11]—would require another two to three years to write.[12] In March 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume.[13] As of April 2014, he was continuing to research the book.[14] In a televised interview with C-SPAN in May 2017, Caro confirmed over 400 typed pages as being complete, covering the period 1964–65; and that once he completes the section on Johnson's 1965 and 1966 legislative achievements, he intends to move to Vietnam to continue the writing process.[15]

In an interview with the New York Review of Books in January 2018, Caro said that he was writing about 1965 and 1966 and a non-chronological section about the relationship between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. Asked if he still planned to visit Vietnam soon, Caro replied: "Not yet, no. This is a very long book. And there's a lot to do before that's necessary. I'm getting close to it now."[16] In December 2018, it was reported that Caro is still "several years from finishing" the volume.[11] In January 2020, Caro said he had "typed 604 manuscript pages so far" and is "currently on a section relating to the creation of Medicare in 1965".[17] Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Caro postponed his research trip to Vietnam and a visit to the Johnson Presidential Library, but continued work on the book from his home in Manhattan.[18] In October 2021, Caro said that he was writing about Johnson's passing of Medicare and his escalation of the Vietnam War.[19] In December 2022, Caro related that he still hoped to conduct research in Vietnam.[20] Robert Gottlieb, Caro’s editor for more than fifty years, passed away in June 2023; a spokesperson for Caro said that “work on Volume 5 [continued] with limited interruption”.[21]


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."[22]


There are plans for a Chinese translation of the series, collectively known under the title Lindeng Yuehanxun, published by Beijing-based Xiron Books. Chengdu resident He Yujia took four months to translate the first volume. She had not learned a significant amount of information about Lyndon Johnson in her formal education, and in accordance with her usual approach to translating non-fiction, she translated material as she read it instead of reading the entire work and then translating it. In late 2018, she spent four months translating the second volume, Jinjie zhi Ti ("Means of Ascent"), but as of 2020 the publisher still has not released the translation. Nor has He Yujia received financial remuneration for her work. Peter Hessler argued that this could be related to a decline in China-United States relations.[23]

Influence of the series[edit]

Politicians have responded strongly to The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

  • Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, wrote of The Passage of Power: "In sparkling detail, Caro shows the new president's genius for getting to people—friends, foes and everyone in between—and how he used it to achieve his goals."[24]
  • 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."
  • Richard Nixon, former President of the United States, called The Path to Power a "terrible book", expressing disbelief at its popularity and saying "it makes [Johnson] feel like a goddamn animal ... of course, he was."[25]
  • 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."[26]
  • 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."[26]
  • 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."[26]
  • Beau Willimon, who created the American version of the political drama television series House of Cards, said he had drawn inspiration for the series from The Years of Lyndon Johnson.[27] In the last episode of the first season, a copy of The Passage of Power can be seen lying on the desk of protagonist Frank Underwood.[28]

See also[edit]


  • Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 1982. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 0-679-72945-3). 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 0-679-73371-X). xxxiv + 506 pp.
  • Caro, Robert A., Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2002. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-394-72095-4). xxiv + 1167 pp.
  • Caro, Robert A., The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2012. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-375-71325-5). 736 pp.


  1. ^ Caro, Robert A. (January 21, 2019). "Robert A. Caro on the Secrets of Lyndon Johnson's Archives". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  2. ^ "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  3. ^ "National Book Awards – 2002". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20. (With acceptance speech.)
  4. ^ "Recipients of the D. B. Hardeman Prize". LBJ Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  5. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (April 29, 2012). "A Nation's Best and Worst, Forged in a Crucible". New York Times.
  6. ^ John Williams (March 1, 2013). "Robert A. Caro, Ben Fountain Among National Book Critics Circle Winners". New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  7. ^ Staff writer (April 19, 2013). "Announcing the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
  8. ^ Jennifer Schuessler (February 20, 2013). "Another Prize for Robert Caro". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
  9. ^ "Biographers International Organization, The Plutarch Award". Archived from the original on 2015-05-18.
  10. ^ "National Book Award Finalists Announced Today". Library Journal. October 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  11. ^ a b Hillel Italie (December 12, 2018). "Robert Caro reflects on his career in upcoming book". Associated Press. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  12. ^ Hillel Italie (November 1, 2011). "Caro's fourth LBJ book coming in May". Associated Press.
  13. ^ Erik Spanberg (March 8, 2013). "Catching up with award-winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  14. ^ Patrick Beach (April 5, 2014). "Caro, LBJ biographer, is hard at work on book No. 5". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Robert Caro on the fifth (and final?) LBJ volume, C-Span
  16. ^ Claudia Dreifus (January 16, 2018). "'Studies in Power': An Interview with Robert Caro". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  17. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (January 8, 2020). "Robert Caro's Papers Headed to New-York Historical Society". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Italie, Hillel (May 8, 2020). "Robert Caro writes, and waits, during the COVID-19 outbreak". The Charlotte Observer. Associated Press. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  19. ^ Helfand, Zach (October 22, 2021). "Why Robert Caro has only ten typewriters". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 9, 2021.
  20. ^ "Caro still working away on fifth LBJ book, no pub date set". AP News. 20 December 2022.
  21. ^ Italie, Hillel (2023-06-15). "Robert Caro's last book on LBJ likely won't be delayed by editor Robert Gottlieb's death". AP. Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  22. ^ Barbara Stone, ed. (1999). "The Round Table: Fiction, Biography And The Use Of Power". Hampton Shorts. IV. Water Mill, N.Y.: Hamptons Literary Publications. ISBN 0-9658652-2-3. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012.
  23. ^ Hessler, Peter (2020-02-03). "China's L.B.J. Cliffhanger". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  24. ^ Clinton, Bill (2012-05-02). "Seat of Power". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-05-27.
  25. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Nixon with no expletives deleted". YouTube.
  26. ^ a b c "Reviews". Robert A. Caro. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  27. ^ Leopold, Todd (August 28, 2013). "House of Cards creator Beau Willimon plays a solid hand". CNN. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  28. ^ Moseley, Tolly. "How LBJ's ghost haunts 'House of Cards'". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 19 April 2020.

External links[edit]

External videos
video icon Means of Ascent
Booknotes interview with Caro on Means of Ascent, April 29, 1990, C-SPAN
video icon Master of the Senate
Washington Journal interview with Caro on the writing of his third volume, July 13, 1998, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Caro on Master of the Senate at the Texas Book Festival, November 16, 2002, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Caro on Master of the Senate at the Library of Congress, May 20, 2003, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Caro on Master of the Senate at the National Book Festival, October 4, 2003, C-SPAN
video icon The Passage of Power
Q&A interview with Caro about the writing of his fourth volume, January 4, 2009, C-SPAN
video icon Part one of C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about the finished book, The Passage of Power, May 6, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Part two of C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about The Passage of Power, May 20, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Caro on The Passage of Power at the National Book Festival, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Caro on The Passage of Power at the National Book Festival, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Caro on The Passage of Power, November 24, 2013, C-SPAN