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Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson #2)

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  12,250 Ratings  ·  387 Reviews
With this, the second volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro enters into the central narrative of his magisterial biography - one of the richest, most intensive and revealing examinations ever undertaken of an American President.

Here we have Johnson's service in the Second World War and the foundation of his long-concealed fortunes- as well as the facts behind
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Published September 6th 1990 by Books on Tape, Inc. (first published March 7th 1990)
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Apr 06, 2017 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
"A platform, he said in his dry way, was like a Mother Hubbard dress: it covered everything and touched nothing. Platforms and campaign promises were meaningless; politicians issued them or made them, and then as soon as they were elected forgot them."
- Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent, quoting Coke Stephenson


This was a different book from Caro's Vol. 1 of the Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 'The Path to Power' detailed the rise and early history of LBJ. It set the table. It showed LB
Dec 29, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To say that Means of Ascent does not reach the towering heights of Caro's first volume of his Years of Lyndon Johnson is no slight. Path to Power is one of the greatest feats of biography I've ever read. The only reason Means falls short is because it happens to dwell on LBJ's wilderness years.

This was the time between his first failed senate run, during a special election, and his second, successful senate run, which culminated in the famed "87 votes that changed America." During these 7 years
James Thane
This is the second volume (of four thus far) in Robert Caro's magisterial biography of former president Lyndon B. Johnson. It treats the period from mid-1941, when Johnson lost a special election for the U.S. Senate, through 1948, when Johnson won election to the Senate in a hotly contested and heatedly disputed primary election. Johnson was crushed by his loss in 1941, and believed that the election had been stolen from him by an opponent who was more clever than he. He vowed it would never hap ...more
Mar 27, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know perfectly well how Lyndon Johnson’s life turned out, yet I was urgently turning the pages as his 1948 run for the Senate played out its sordid finish in this second volume of Robert Caro’s monumental biography. A biography researched and documented, yes; but a narrative stranger than fiction.

“Means of Ascent” covers seven years of Johnson’s life, comprising his brief (and greatly aggrandized) career in the Navy in World War II and the beginnings of his considerable fortune through ownersh
Stewart Mitchell
Caro's massive, unending biography of Lyndon Johnson's life continues in spectacular fashion in this book, the second volume in his Years of Lyndon Johnson series.

This volume covers the years in between Johnson's first (failed) attempt at a Senate position and his eventual victory over Coke Stevenson to earn one in 1949. As Caro describes in the immersive introductory chapter, these were Johnson's "dark years". These were the years in which he took a backseat to politics and built up a fortune,
Antonio Nunez
Jul 11, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first heard of this book in 2001, when the Sunday Times of London asked William Hague, former chief of the UK Conservative Party, which book would he take to a desert island. At the time Hague was licking his wounds after having been mauled in Parliamentary elections, and was forced to step down as Party Leader. He was defeated by one of the most brilliant and ruthless political operators this country has known since the days of Baroness Thatcher, Tony Blair. Having seen the book in a used-boo ...more
Joe Martin

I loved the first volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power. I’d ever read a better biography. I’ve still never read a better one but I’ve now read one that’s just as good.

This book really succeeds because it’s essentially four stories in one book.

Chapters 1–5 are the story of Johnson’s later years in Congress and what he did during World War II. (Johnson spent most of the war avoid danger and then flew into danger, literally, at the last minute in order to have some

May 12, 2014 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This volume of Robert Caro's epic multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson would seem to be inessential. LBJ is cast to the political wilderness after the death of FDR, his greatest booster, and from the description, it sounds like it will be Lyndon kicking a can down a dusty road and feeling sorry for himself. Do not be deterred! I enjoyed it even more than the first volume. It has personal intrigue, cutthroat business deals, vicious political maneuvering, courtroom drama, and my favorite thing, ...more
Jul 18, 2011 H. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Means of Ascent is the second volume in (now) projected 5 volume biography of LBJ. It covers the period from after his first, unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate until his successful run six years later. For what at one time was to be a 4 volume biography, it seems a poor allocation of resources to devote the same amount of space (an entire volume) to six years spent in the House of Representatives as to the eight years spent as either the Vice President or President of the United States of Ame ...more
May 11, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, audiobook
In reading Caro’s second volume of the LBJ biography series, I was completely blown away. While some call it the lesser exciting of Caro’s first two volumes depicting LBJ’s Texas life and early congressional years, I felt that it helped shape the image of the president I knew from the history books. Means of Ascent is by no means a shrinking violet in the literary world, though its action does, perhaps, pale when placed against its older sibling, Path to Power. Still, Caro brings to life those y ...more
Richard Moss
May 12, 2015 Richard Moss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
If the first volume of Caro's LBJ biography was a broad canvas - from the foundation of Texas through Johnson's family history, his progress to adulthood, and early political triumphs, this is much more focused on the detail of a seven-year period between Pearl Harbour and Johnson's arrival in the Senate.

It deals with Johnson's war service - or what passes for it - his depression as he struggles to make an impact in Congress - and then zeroes in on the 1948 election for the Senate that becomes m
This is the third book I've read of the four Caro has, to date, written on Lyndon B. Johnson. I have not read them in order. My first was Master of the Senate (#3), followed by Passage to Power (#4). Collectively, these books go far beyond telling the story of the life of Lyndon B. Johnson. They tell the story of an era through the lens of the life of LBJ. Each book provides insights into later events and earlier events, so as to put the current book into context.

In each book, we also learn abo
Adam Higgitt
Mar 19, 2014 Adam Higgitt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There can't be much still to be said about Robert A Caro's multi-volume study of Lyndon Johnson. Regarded by many as the greatest political biography ever (though with one volume still to go, it might be wise to reserve judgement) it has won virtually every book prize for which it is eligible and is on the favourite list of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Anything I say is therefore unlikely to add to the understanding of Caro's achievement in chronicling the life of America's 36th Pr ...more
Nov 22, 2012 Vheissu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Caro not only knows how to tell a great tale, but he is an expert in what I call "forensic history." That is, he uses historical evidence to answer definitively questions that hounded LBJ his entire professional life. In the second volume of his biography, Caro demonstrates conclusively that LBJ stole not only the 1948 Senate seat from Texas but also the KBTC broadcasting license in Austin, a.k.a. a license to print money.

My only real criticism of the book is Caro’s hagiographic treatment of Cok
Jan 22, 2017 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific and exhaustive examination of a critical time in LBJ's life and rise to power in Washington. This volume looks at what Lyndon was up to during WWII as he jockeyed for greater power, authority, and opportunities to lead, finally cumulating in as exhaustive and detailed a recounting (ha!) of the 1948 U.S. Senate race between LBJ and Coke Stevenson as you will ever find.

It's a fascinating book. Caro seemed caught between utter contempt for Lyndon Johnson's ruthless pragmatism and an almost
Camilo Ardiles Morgado
Another great book from Robert Caro, way shorter than the previous ones I read ( Power Broker and Path to power)

This one shorter than the previous two, equally exciting and fascinating though. Here the focus goes to LBJ senatorial race and his "dark years". Again I find myself amused by what Johnson is capable of doing to get power and his differences with his opponent Coke Stevenson who is the opposite of the pragmatism and ruthlessness of LBJ.

The old vs the new is a current theme in this book
Jessica Brown
Aug 03, 2010 Jessica Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my view the best of the 3 Caro books on Johnson. (All are great.) He made me care about Coke Stephenson someone I'd never heard of before. I'm just hopefully Caro stays healthy enough to finish this wonderful series.
Sep 14, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent - Robert A. Caro

Spoiler Alert: This book is not for the politically squeamish nor the faint of heart.

This is the fourth biography I have read about LBJ. It is also the second of four (a promised fifth still to come) focused on LBJ's life by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author, Robert Caro. Like all of LBJ's biographers, Caro must come to grip with the man's insatiable need to be in control - unlike the other biographers I have read
Bart Thanhauser
Jun 02, 2013 Bart Thanhauser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was reading the last few pages of The Means of Ascent, Robert Caro’s second book in his LBJ series, my friend asked me a question I’d been thinking a lot about: why are you reading a biography about LBJ?

I had been thinking about this question because it’s one that Caro himself discusses in The Means of Ascent’s final pages. Caro writes, “From the first time I thought of becoming a biographer, I never conceived of my biographies as merely telling the lives of famous men but rather as a me
Aaron Million
Caro's second, thorough volume on LBJ picks up after his defeat in the 1941 special Senatorial election. Caro then spends a few chapters basically summarizing what happened in volume I The Path to Power. While this is certainly helpful for anyone who did not read the first volume, or perhaps needed a refresher on Johnson's rise to Congress, I found it somewhat unnecessary. Not bad by any means, just not really needed. This includes a chapter on Lady Bird and Johnson's despicable and harsh treatm ...more
Sep 29, 2015 Blake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another triumph. This time, it is not the breadth of Caro's vision that overwhelms us, but its focus. After a casual exploration of LBJ's time in military service (a relaxed affair up until a highly dangerous, yet subsequently over-embellished airborne mission), and of his acquisition of a (financially lucrative) radio station, the book launches into a 300 page legal-political thriller that is the 1948 Texas Senate primary election. The stakes, in this case, are grand - Johnson was foregoing his ...more
Oct 08, 2014 Max rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
With the exception of Johnson’s brief but dangerous war time episode, this second volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson gets off to a slow start as his political prospects wallow in the 1940’s. However, the pace quickly picks up with the Texas senatorial primary election of 1948. Describing elections, Caro never fails to create excitement and suspense even if we know the outcome. In the first volume, The Path to Power, he gave us riveting accounts of Johnson’s failed senatorial run in 1941, his ...more
Jul 28, 2012 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of political science
Shelves: biography-memoir
At the end of this book Caro writes: "What I set out to try to do was to examine the way power works in America in the middle of the twentieth century."

Power. The one word that motivated Lyndon Baines Johnson. When he finally secured any measure of power he used it to the furthest extent he could--and then a bit beyond that.

This is the second volume in Caro's magnificent biography of Johnson and focuses on the years 1941 to 1948. Johnson was "in the war" for only a short period of time, but he m
Aug 04, 2009 Nicholas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kelly McCubbin
Aug 19, 2015 Kelly McCubbin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If Volume One of Caro's "Years of Lyndon Johnson" were his "The Grapes of Wrath", this is his "The Searchers". By the end of the book the breathtaking and colossally corrupt 1948 senate race that Johnson clearly stole out from under his opponent is so peppered with mobs and pistoleros and bribery and cowboys and backrooms and vintage, old west, legal proclamating that you can hardly believe it wasn't a strict genre fiction... But it wasn't.
e watch, in this volume, the complete loss of any vestig
Susan O
Means of Ascent is the second book in Robert Caro's masterful biography of LBJ and I must admit, I didn't expect to like this book as much as the first, primarily because the main focus was the Senate election of 1948 and the unbelievable amount of corruption in Texas politics at the time. And I probably did enjoy The Path to Power more, but this is still without a doubt a 5 star book.

The book covers the time between the special election of 1941 and the regular Senate election of 1948, and inclu
Nov 21, 2009 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another compelling effort by Caro. This one is brief by his standards (a mere 412 pages) and clearly a bridge between Volumes I and III of his epic The Years of Lyndon Johnson. The writing and insights are as powerful as in The Path to Power, but the period it covers is the least interesting of LBJ's life, his "wilderness years" the period between his first (unsuccessful) and second (successful) run for the US Senate.

The description of how LBJ made millions via his radio station is, as Caro says
Feb 21, 2011 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome. This is the most riveting volume of the Caro LBJ trilogy. The chapter on Box 13 alone is worth the price of this book. LBJ learned a lesson when he lost the Senate race to Pappy O'Daniel in 1938- Don't call-in all your votes until the other side has called-in all theirs.FDR would later joke with him about this. He didn't let that mistake happen again in 1948. Little did he know he'd have to "manufacture" a few votes, then hide a few more to beat out former Governor Coke Stevenson by les ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second of Michael Caro's trilogy on LBJ. Takes you from his time in House of Representatives to his election to the Senate in 1948. Outlines the influnces on his life, how he amassed power during the FDR years, how he used his friendship with Sam Rayburn to enhance his status, created his wealth, his true war record and his extra martial relationships. The book gives great depth to his "landslide" election by 87 votes to the Senate. Did he steal the election? In the Path to Power, Mr. Caro t ...more
Oct 10, 2012 Betty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
This isn't quite the revelation that the first volume is, but it is still a more-than-capable follow-up. Caro's got an incredible sense of storytelling, and he never lets you forget that this stolen 1948 primary is electoral politics in a nutshell, nor that Lyndon Johnson is a microcosm of the classic American hunger for power. Caro also succeeds in turning a wealth of facts and research into a really clear narrative (though I admit that some of the more intricate courtroom drama slightly eluded ...more
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He's the author of The Power Broker (1974), for which he won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. It's a biography of Robert Moses, an urban planner and leading builder of New York City. President Obama said that he read the biography when he was 22 years old and that the book "mesmerized" him. Obama said, "I'm sure it helped to shape how I think about politics."

Caro has also written four biographies on Lyndo
More about Robert A. Caro...

Other Books in the Series

The Years of Lyndon Johnson (4 books)
  • The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #1)
  • Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #3)
  • The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4)

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“A handshake, as delivered by Lyndon Johnson, could be as effective as a hug.” 3 likes
“Until the end of his life, whenever the subject of the vast growth of the LBJ Company and associated business enterprises was raised, Lyndon Johnson would emphasize that he owned none of it (“All that is owned by Mrs. Johnson.… I don’t have any interest in government-regulated industries of any kind and never have had”).” 3 likes
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