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A sneak peak at Caro’s new LBJ volume

March 31, 2012

Robert Caro has spent three decades chronicling the life and times of  Lyndon B. Johnson. After three masterful volumes, Caro is ready with his fourth in his series, this one covering the years from 1958 to 1964, when LBJ was winding down his U.S. Senate career, running a failed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 and ascending to the White House on Nov. 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was murdered in LBJ’s home state of Texas.

If  the preview of the coming attraction that appears in the April 2 edition of the New Yorker is a gauge, Caro’s new work is sure to be a hit. In the New Yorker piece, an excerpt from the book, Caro focuses on that fateful day in Dallas when Johnson took over from the fallen Kennedy.

A former Newsday reporter, Caro is that rare author who combines the journalist’s jeweler’s eye for vivid details with the historian’s intellectual heft. His first book, the Path to Power (1982) covered Johnson’s formative years in the Hill country of Texas. The second, Means of Ascent (1990) delved into Johnson’s political survival in the rough and shady culture of Texas politics. His third volume was Master of the Senate (2002), a masterpiece of history and writing that won both the National Book Award and  Pulitzer Prize.

Master of the Senate begins with the best 100-page history of the U.S. Senate ever written, then sets the table for Johnson’s transformation to national leader. The next volume is entitled The Passage of Power and is scheduled to be in bookstores in May.

The New Yorker excerpt combines Caro’s voluminous research on LBJ’s life and career with a novelistic account of   the day JFK was shot while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas.

The result is  remarkable look at a day when LBJ’s questionable dealings at the intersection of politics and business  were subject of a Congressional inquiry in Washington. At the same time, Kennedy had come to Dallas to try to heal a fracture in the Democratic Party in the crucial state of Texas, a nasty fissure that LBJ, despite his legendary powers of persuasion and intimidation, had now been able to fix.

All of the drama of that fateful day is here, as well as a reconstruction of the details of how LBJ learned of Kennedy’s death from JFK aide Ken O’Donnell and why Johnson insisted that Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, stand by the new president’s side as he took the presidential oath of office on Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas.

Historian Robert Dalleck famously labeled Johnson the “flawed giant.’’ It remains for Caro to fill in the details of the career of a the man whose presidency ushered in Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and major immigration reform. (Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, JFK’s brother had major roles in the immigration reform that made it easier for the Portuguese, a political potent ethnic group in Rhode Island’s East Bay and southeastern Massachusetts, to have a legal path to bring family members to the U.S.). And of course the quagmire that became Vietnam.

Caro has already sold 11 million copies of his earlier Johnson books. If this new work is as compelling as the New Yorker tease, Caro is on his way to another best-seller and a passel of literary awards.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Howard Hackman permalink
    April 1, 2012 4:08 am

    Anythng by Caro is a must read.

  2. April 2, 2012 1:38 pm

    Right you are Howard. His biography of Robert Moses, the `Power Broker’ was great!

  3. Lou Wigdor permalink
    April 12, 2012 7:11 pm

    Another take on the Caro New Yorker excerpt:

    LBJ had become president, but he was invisible to the press

    LBJ and the Invisible Gorilla of Succession

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