Loving this so far: lucid, candid, and fast-paced. It focuses on the CIA side, taking into account "clients"' possible motivations without patronizing...moreLoving this so far: lucid, candid, and fast-paced. It focuses on the CIA side, taking into account "clients"' possible motivations without patronizing or speaking for them. (less)
Caro's look at Johnson's formative years is nothing short revelatory . . . and not only on the subject of Johnson's personal history. Caro's portrait...moreCaro's look at Johnson's formative years is nothing short revelatory . . . and not only on the subject of Johnson's personal history. Caro's portrait of the lives of dirt-poor Hill Country farmers during the years between Texas's settlement and rural electrification is as vivid as it is intimate. The contributions of his wife Ina through her interviews with rural farmers' wives brings a new clarity and dimension to a time in history so often seen only through the eyes of men. Caro takes these stories seriously and uses them to paint a sharp picture of both Johnson and the political environment that brought him to power. I was also so fascinated by the sections of the book on the geological and agricultural history of the Texas Hill Country. Understanding the lure of the prairie, and its fragility, helped me understand why pioneers would risk their lives to settle the land and continued to risk everything to stay. I have seen the curse that cedar breaks bring, but Caro's detailed telling of the way cedar plundered the prairie's usuable land and water helped me understand the value of the New Deal work programs that cleared it. If there is any weakness to this book, it is the sections about the "Bunton eye" and the way that family history determined Johnson's fate. I suspect this type of explaining someone's character is just out fashion now, but Caro's very complete picture of Johnson's family and childhood sets the stage for the next three books.
I've read this series in reverse order, and in this book, I finally understood what drew Caro to Johnson's story. It's not only the powerful impact Johnson exerted on Texas and national politics, an influence that almost cannot be overstated. Caro, like Johnson, "does everything, absolutely everything." His use of primary sources is uniquely thorough: Caro's interviews with people like FDR's doorman, Johnson's chauffeur, and Sam Johnson's creditors show insight, creativity, and a Johnson-like understanding that these people have real information and real power. Regular folks were not his only targets, however: I wish he would've written more about what it took to get interviews like the one with George Brown of Brown & Root, who spent days taking to Caro about his brother's illegal, large-scale maneuvers on Johnson's behalf. I think Caro was drawn to Johnson because his own searching intellect, fierce energy, and creative yes, genius, made him wonder how someone with such a similar skill set used his powers for evil.
Ah, Caro. I love you so! Not that this book isn't incredible on its own, but I am glad that I read this after "Master of the Senate." If I hadn't unde...moreAh, Caro. I love you so! Not that this book isn't incredible on its own, but I am glad that I read this after "Master of the Senate." If I hadn't understood how subtle and how clever ...and how oddly effective and practical... Johnson could be, parts of this story would have been less interesting. In this book, Johnson is so broadly mean-spirited and calculating. The story that unfolds is a look at him galvanizing his political machine and revolutionizing Texas politics. It's not the revealing close-up of his psyche that Master of the Senate was. (I haven't read Vol. 1 yet)
Still, incredible. So well researched, and so carefully reported. If there's doubt as to a point in the story, Caro owns up to it, but the things he's sure about he humbly points out that "careful reporters" could have easily verified. Which I think is the Caro way of saying, "Boo Yah, Bzzches!"
Something I really appreciate about Caro's approach is that, unlike so many biographers, Caro actually takes the time to see through the eyes of the supporting cast. Caro, unlike, say, Edmund Morris in "Theodore Rex," or even Debby Applegate in "The Most Famous Man in America," interviews and treats as revealing and valid the perspectives of people of color. Caro shows that the way Johnson treated his wife, his secretaries, and random soldiers is as revealing as the way Johnson spoke with Russell or Brown.
For me personally (not as a nitpicky history-reader), the best part, the beautiful, lyrical part, is the way he gives us Coke Stevenson in the middle of the florid mess that was Texas politics in this era. Caro gives us real reason to believe in and praise the public service of Stevenson without ever belittling him with flattery. Reading about Stevenson's remarkable life made me want to go find more writing about him, but I suspect none will be as revealing and substantial as Caro's.
Sigh. Tried to make this book last but couldn't. (less)
So, I have finally finished this tome. So no matter what complaining I'm about to do, I didn't put it into the "too boring to continue" category....
Ho...moreSo, I have finally finished this tome. So no matter what complaining I'm about to do, I didn't put it into the "too boring to continue" category....
Here are my two main complaints:
1. Fawning. Seriously, the author wants to have TR's wee tubby babies. There isn't a critical sentence in the entire book. In my opinion, part of what's fascinating about TR is the way that he exemplified some of the best of his time (engaging with John Muir and Booker T. Washington) and the worst of his class (that mioptic paternalism of his). Morris seems determined to gloss over any contradictions in TR's character, but I think futher exploration of criticisms of TR's policies would have helped me learn a lot more about America at the time.
2. Cummberbunds. Reading this book made me feel like I was being told a story by Horace Slughorn: "By jove, he was a grand chap, that Arthur! He wore a paisley cummerbund to the [important international summit you actually want to know about:]. I remember clearly what a penchant he had for paisley cummerbunds. Why there was a time..." Urgh! I don't care about the horses! I want to know what the Nicaraguan opposition thought of him! Or the black press. Or women, considering the fact that the push for women's suffrage was really taking off during his time in office.
Other than these two issues, I did enjoy many parts of the book. Particularly fun to read were the letters and observations of Archie Butt. Morris does, of course, describe his dressing habits, but Archie does a much better job of giving us a sense of the space around the Roosevelts.
And certainly the book did an excellent job of piquing my interest in a president who had such wide interests and a lot of wisdom to go with his great energy. I'll have to read more about him; it's hard to see very clearly with the bright light of Morris's love shining fully on TR's face.(less)
A look at the political life and accomplishments of my favorite historical Texan. Since it's the only whole book out there about this female candidate...moreA look at the political life and accomplishments of my favorite historical Texan. Since it's the only whole book out there about this female candidate for governor, founding member of the League of Women voters, and tireless worker for women's suffrage, I did enjoy reading it.
Her take-no-prisoners approach to improving the transparency and participation of our democracy is so inspiring. And I loved seeing how her upbringing as a Southern lady actually strenghtened her resolve and ability to create liberal reforms. It must have been difficult to edit down the exhausting list of the organizations and efforts she led.
Still, I can't wait for someone to fall in love with her as a graduate student and to go through her cohort's papers and shine up a better narrative for publication. A bigger-picture look at her influence, personality, and the effects of her accomplishments would have made Minnie seem more real.
I would have liked to have heard diary entries from people who heard her speak, or from women who were - or were not - inspired to vote for her for governor, or perspectives from women who were serving successfully in state government at the time. I think drawing solely on her own papers limits this book's celebration of this tralblazer's impact, but still, it's a start. (less)
Boring. He tries to draw attention by centering on a few famous founding father's backgrounds and words, but I think this discussion would have been m...moreBoring. He tries to draw attention by centering on a few famous founding father's backgrounds and words, but I think this discussion would have been much more enlightening and interesting if a broader lens had been used.
I would have liked to hear more of the instructive successes and failures of the individual colonies prior to the "founding." The author glosses over these conflicts in favor of a more biographical view of Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and Madison.
If the biographical approach worked for this topic, this book would read less like a deposition. It doesn't, so...it does.
Still, the facts are there, and this at least a fair and nuanced portrayal of oft-used quotes on the topic. For that reason, it's a welcome addition to the popular conversation. Good primer, too, if all you've heard so far is rhetoric from the right or left.(less)
I really enjoyed this book but with some reservations. It was exactingly researched. You can tell that Derby has amassed mountains of notes on her sub...moreI really enjoyed this book but with some reservations. It was exactingly researched. You can tell that Derby has amassed mountains of notes on her subject, and sculpting them into a cohesive, compelling narrative took remarkable talent. My reservations are based mostly on the type of history I like to read, but I also think that she missed one of the major themes of the Beechers' collective story, and the nation's: race.
Derby fails to note that the early Temperance movement championed by Lyman Beecher and his acolytes fed on the rabid anti-immigration feeling of the times (it was the lower class new immigrants who were brewing and distilling spirits).
Later, she describes Beecher's relationships with African Americans during his seminary years that led to Harriet Beecher Stowe's descriptions of Uncle Tom, and of the pastor's auctioning of the freedom of the slave girl. Derby paints these moments as revelatory of Beecher's better nature. I wish that there were quotes by any African Americans in the book besides the incidental single-sentence quotes by Frederick Douglass. Surely there was something said of Beecher's escapades in the nacent black press at the time? I imagine Derby sees this omission as a stylistic decision, but I was still disappointed.
While I was fascinated by Derby's way of using Beecher to depict a definitive era in American history (and was thrilled particularly by the intimate cameos of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Abraham Lincoln), I think the portrait would have been even more telling if it had come in full color.(less)
I am constantly re-reading the letters in this book. The letters are funny, sobering, and intriguing in turn, but they are always revealing. My favori...moreI am constantly re-reading the letters in this book. The letters are funny, sobering, and intriguing in turn, but they are always revealing. My favorites:
* Groucho Marx negotiating with his production company * Marianne Moore trying to name a new model for a car company (and having repeated rejections) * Desperate poor women begging Margaret Sanger for help in preventing or stopping their pregnancies * The letters for help to Eleanor Roosevelt * Teddy Roosevelt's letters to his kids and, above all, Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie & Clyde)'s letter to Henry Ford:
While I still have breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strictly legal it don't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the Ford V-8.
First-person, child's eye-view of one village's and one family's Chinese Revolution. A privilged family is scorned and ostracized after regime change,...moreFirst-person, child's eye-view of one village's and one family's Chinese Revolution. A privilged family is scorned and ostracized after regime change, and a little girl is left to make sense of the new world she finds.
Hearing villagers, especially kids, take on the slogans of the Cultural Revolution - "That's Four Olds!" shout school children at elderly merchants - was revealing both of that era and of the way that people everywhere adjust to whatever ideology is paying the bills today.
Fascinating, but I can't wait for a similar memoir told from the opposite perspective - a lower-class family whose changes through that era weren't as stark and who might have had something to gain from the shift to communism. (less)