Sarita's Reviews > The Path to Power

The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro
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Jun 30, 10

bookshelves: current-favorites, history
Recommended for: Texas History buffs, Caro fans, fans of demoncracy, Sam Rayburn, or Texas
Read from June 08 to 30, 2010

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 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.

love, love love love love :)


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Sarita I think I'll start a Robert Caro fan club to go alongside my Theda Skopkol fan club. :)


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