Andy Miller's Reviews > The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro
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Aug 01, 2012

it was amazing
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Read in July, 2012

I've read all four volumes that Caro has written so far in his multi volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. This volume which covers Johnson's life from his campaign for President in 1960 to his State of Union address in January 1964 is the most balanced, the most nuanced of the four. In his earlier volumes Caro at times seemed to hate his subject, especially in Volume 2 where he painted Coke Stevenson, a reactionary racist Texan political figure as a folk hero in order to put LBJ in a bad light. This volume is far different, it not only treats Johnson with sympathy during his Vice Presidency where he was excluded and humiliated , but also during his first year as President and portrayed Johnson's advocacy of civil rights and anti poverty programs as genuine. An excellent example of this was the describtion of a state dinner for the German premiere shortly after LBJ became President, it was a BBQ in a grange type hall in rural Texas that contrasted with the elegant dinner parties in JFK's White House--Caro resisted the temptation to dismiss it as corn pone

This book also has the most balanced view of the contempt between LBJ and Robert Kennedy that I have ever read. Most books that tell that story end up taking one side or the other, but here Caro does an excellent job of exploring the strengths and weaknesses of both political giants mixing admiration and criticism of both

Caro is a true historian, this is not a "survey" book or summary of other's writings. The best example was the chapter on JFK's selection of LBJ as Vice Presidential nominee. Caro addresses all the theories, whether JFK wanted LBJ to say yes or was hoping he would decline, whether JFK later changed his mind, what Sam Rayburn's role truly was, whether RFK was always speaking for JFK during that day. Caro discusses later writings by other historians but also goes back to original sources and analyzes all the arguments before coming to his conclusion(that JFK wanted LBJ, understood that he needed LBJ and that RFK was not always speaking or acting on JFK's behalf

This of course includes the day of JKK's murder and I was tempted to skim through it as I have ready far too many accounts of that sad day and following weekend. But this was truly written from LBJ's perspective and provided a refreshing different take.

My one criticism of this volume is that Caro too often goes on tangents, speculating in essay type sections about how events were affecting people or what people MIGHT have been thinking, here he strays from both original and secondary sources and it comes across as almost a free association essay. But this is a very small quibble with a great, great book

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Nathaniel Forgive if a certain presumption is necessary at this late , highly corporate, stage of "democracy". I think this book is bad, and has been favorably reviewed because it is so safe. Here is a dissenting view. I intend only to provoke democratic yaking, which is so difficult in today's completely corporate world, where all disagreement about what really matters is niched until the body politic is a corpse

Andy Miller Nathaniel, I read the review-my reaction was that you had not read Caro's book but wanted audience for your political views

Nathaniel I have definitely read Caro's book. And yes I freely admit that I want an audience for the views that are the opinions of nearly all academic historians but are being systematically censored from this stage of development within our highly centralized corporate media. Embedded is not just a word for war reporters anymore... wait a minute there are no more war reporters!

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