Nicolas Shump's Reviews > Means of Ascent

Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro
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Jan 17, 09

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In a previous review, I mentioned my enthusiasm for Robert Caro's work on LBJ. It was supposed to have been a three-volume project, but when Caro researched Johnson's successful 1948 campaign for the U.S. Senate, he felt compelled to devote an entire volume to this campaign, which Johnson stole according to Caro. Perish the thought of a corrupt election in Texas! Caro also makes a concerted effort to turn Johnson's opponent Coke Stevenson into some kind of Texas frontier version of Thomas Jefferson. In Means of Ascent, Caro focuses considerable attention on this campaign victory by a mere 87 votes. Other major characters besides Johnson and Stevenson are Hugo Black, who was later appointed to the Supreme Court.
Many historians and scholars vehemently contest the glowing portrait of Stevenson, who apparently was a firm segregationist among other things. I must confess that in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, I found myself going back to this volume which had a similarly contested electoral count that, much like the Bush v. Gore case, was suspended at the 11th hour. Though it is not something that I relish, the truth of the matter is that elections were and continue to be stolen in politics. No matter how sophisticated the electoral machinery becomes, if someone wants to steal an election, it can be stolen.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (yes RFK's son) has written several accounts of how 2004 was stolen by Bush for Rolling Stone for those of you interested.
As for this book by Caro, it has all of the strengths of the first volume, vivid characterization, broad strokes for the historical context, and painstaking research. However, to devote an entire 600 pages to one Senate election is a bit much.

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