Robert Caro Asks Us to Share His Obsession: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

One of the fun things about Robert Caro's massively ambitious four-volume (so far) biography of Lyndon Johnson is the way the author invites readers to share in his obsession with our 36th president. Filtering vast research through a skilled, vivid narrative voice, Caro has spent 40 years on four volumes. The most recent of those, The Passage of Power, was released two weeks ago, and it finally makes a dent in Johnson's presidency; the second half of the book covers his first several weeks in office.

In the summer of 2002, I spent a week in the fresh mountain heat of Lake Tahoe but felt like I was actually in the dry vastness of Texas hill country. I was reading The Path to Power, the first volume of Caro's series. However, as far as the power and capacity of these books, being “transported” is only a fringe benefit. Caro's work goes beyond biography and reaches the highest level of literary achievement, superseding considerations of genre.

The task the author has set himself is to demonstrate avenues toward and the manipulation of political power in the United States. Lyndon Johnson is not simply a fascinating, contradictory personality whose life affords colorful anecdotes from the peaks and valleys of a political career; he is the embodiment of modern American political morality — a master manipulator who achieved great heights before realizing the price of devious and precarious brinksmanship. Caro's books show that Johnson created the template of what we think of today as a consummate politician: ambitious, flawed, contradictory, and hard to love.

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