The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 1: The Path to Power

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9780002170628: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 1: The Path to Power

The Years of Lyndon Johnson is the political biography of our time. Here is the perfect joining of subject and writer: Johnson, the man of awesome complexity, energy, ambition, and power—obsessed with secrecy, obscuring (often “rewriting”) the facts of his personal and political life; Caro, his biographer, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his life of Robert Moses, The Power Broker—and everywhere acclaimed for the brilliance, tenacity, and integrity of his research, for his grasp of character and of the workings of power. The conjunction has produced a monumental and galvanizing book that is a landmark in American biography. No president—no era of American politics—has been so intensively and sharply examined at a time when so many prime witnesses to hitherto untold or misinterpreted facts of a life, a career, and a period of history could still be persuaded to speak.

The Path to Power—the first book of The Years of Lyndon Johnson—reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and urge to power that set LBJ apart. Chronicling the startling early emergence of Johnson’s political genius, it follows him from his Texas boyhood through the years of the Depression in the Texas Hill Country to the triumph of his congressional debut in New Deal Washington, to his heartbreaking defeat in his first race for the Senate, and his attainment, nonetheless, of the national power for which he hungered.

We see in him, from earliest childhood, a fierce, unquenchable necessity to be first, to win, to dominate—coupled with a limitless capacity for hard, unceasing labor in the service of his own ambition. Caro shows us the big, gangling, awkward young Lyndon—raised in one of the country’s most desperately poor and isolated areas, his education mediocre at best, his pride stung by his father’s slide into failure and financial ruin—lunging for success, moving inexorably toward that ultimate “impossible” goal that he sets for himself years before any friend or enemy suspects what it may be.

We watch him, while still at college, instinctively (and ruthlessly) creating the beginnings of the political machine that was to serve him for three decades. We see him employing his extraordinary ability to mesmerize and manipulate powerful older men, to mesmerize (and sometimes almost enslave) useful subordinates. We follow, close up, the radical fluctuations of his relationships with the formidable “Mr. Sam” Rayburn (who loved him like a son and whom he betrayed) and with FDR himself. And we follow the dramas of his emotional life—the intensities and complications of his relationships with his family, his contemporaries, his girls; his wooing and winning of the shy Lady Bird; his secret love affair, over many years, with the mistress of one of his most ardent and generous supporters....

We see Johnson at once unscrupulous, admirable, treacherous, devoted. And we see the country that bred him: the harshness and “nauseating loneliness” of the rural life; the tragic panorama of the Depression; the sudden glow of hope at the dawn of the Age of Roosevelt. And always, in the foreground, on the move, LBJ.

In preparation for this audiobook, Caro has—through some seven years—immersed himself in Johnson’s life and world; has lived in Johnson’s Hill Country, has crisscrossed the United States, finding and talking to hundreds of men and women—his boyhood friends and sweethearts, his college classmates and rivals, the men who politicked with him in congressional cloakrooms, the young New Deal aides (among them Corcoran, Cohen, Fortas, Rowe) who helped him rise and rose with him.

Here as never before is Lyndon Johnson—his Texas, his Washington, his America—in an audiobook that brings us as close as we have ever been to a true perception of political genius and the American political process.

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Review:

The profound understanding of the uses and abuses of power Robert Caro displayed in his 1974 biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, is a scathing achievement the author surpassed with panache in this, his second book. Caro's dogged research and refusal to accept received wisdom results in an eye-opening portrait that unforgettably captures the titanic personality of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973). Though stronger on Johnson's duplicity and naked self-promotion than his intelligence and charm, Caro nails it all. He chronicles the evolution of an attention-demanding youth from the Texas hill country into a seasoned congressman who would abandon his ardent espousal of the New Deal as soon as it ceased to be expedient. The dirty details begin with college elections that earn young Lyndon a reputation as a crook and a liar; Caro goes on to unravel financial shenanigans of impressive ingenuity. Johnson's consuming desire to get ahead and his political genius "unencumbered by philosophy or ideology" are staggering. The White House, Great Society, and Vietnam lie ahead when the main narrative closes in 1941, but the roots of Johnson's future achievements and tragic failures are laid bare. This biography may well stand as the best book written in the second half of the 20th century about personal ambition inextricably linked with historic change. --Wendy Smith

From the Back Cover:

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

"Proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro's evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson's unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually works are---let it be said flat out---at the summit of American historical writing." -- Washington Post

"A monumental political saga . . . powerful and stirring. It's an overwhelming experience to read The Path to Power." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

"Not only a historical but a literary event. An epic biography . . . A sweeping, richly detailed portrait . . . vivid [with] Caro's astonishing concern for the humanity of his characters. An awesome achievement." --Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

"Stands at the pinnacle of the biographical art." --Donald R. Morris, Houston Post

"The major biography of recent years. Brilliant . . . Magisterial . . . Caro has given us an American life of compelling fascination. A benchmark beside which other biographies will be measured for some time to come." --Alden Whitman, Los Angeles Herald Examiner

"An ineradicable likeness of an American giant. Caro has brought to life a young man so believable and unforgettable that we can hear his heartbeat and touch him." --Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University

" Epic. A brief review cannot convey the depth, range and detail of this fascinating story. Caro is a meticulous historian. A monument of interpretive biography." --Michael R. Beschloss, Chicago Sun-Times Book Week

"Splendid and moving. At this rate Caro's work will eventually acquire Gibbon-like dimensions, and Gibbon-like passion. . . . Caro is a phenomenon . . . an artful writer, with a remarkable power to evoke and characterize politicians, landscapes, relationships. This massive book is almost continually exciting." --Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

"By every measure---depth of research, brilliance of conception, the seamless flow of the prose---it is a masterpiece of biography." --Dan Cryer, Newsday

"Extraordinary. A powerful, absorbing, at times awe-inspiring, and often deeply alarming story. A vivid picture of the emergence of one of this century's authentically great politicians." --Alan Brinkley, Boston Sunday Globe

"The book races at Johnson's own whirlwind pace. A tour de force that blends relentless detective work, polemical vigor and artful storytelling into the most compelling narrative of American political life since All the King's Men." --Henry Mayer, San Francisco Chronicle

"A landmark in American political biography. The definitive life of LBJ. Caro has written a Johnson biography that is richer and fuller and may well be one of the freshest and most revealing studies ever written about a major historical figure." --Steve Neal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"A masterful narrative on a grand scale, a fascinating portrait of LBJ's activities set against a fully drawn canvas of life in the Texas hill country. By far the most significant Johnson book to appear." -- Library Journal

"No mere political biography. Caro is on the way to becoming our finest fine-tooth-comb historian." --Jack Goodman, Salt Lake Tribune

"Magnificent. For understanding our recent past and the men and policies that brought the country to its present condition and aimed us toward whatever our future is to be, it's an immensely important work." --Bryan Woolley, Dallas Times Herald

"This is a watershed book. Caro writes with sweek and passion. From the first sentence I was hooked. All other biographies of Johnson pale in comparison." -- Joseph P. Lash

"Engrossing and revealing. This fascinating, immensely long and highly readable book is the fullest account we have--and are ever likely to have--of the early years of LBJ." --David Herbert Donald, front page, NY Times Book Review

"A superb and unique biography...Meticulous in research, grand in scale, this is a major work that will remain a tower of its kind."-- Barbara Tuchman

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Caro, Robert A.
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Caro, Robert A.
Published by The Harvill Press (1983)
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