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The Path to Power

(The Years of Lyndon Johnson #1)

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  22,398 ratings  ·  1,201 reviews
This is the story of the rise to national power of a desperately poor young man from the Texas Hill Country. The Path to Power reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy & ambition that set LBJ apart. It follows him from the Hill Country to New Deal Washington, from his boyhood thru the years of the Depression to his debut as Congres ...more
Kindle Edition, 960 pages
Published November 23rd 2011 by Vintage (first published November 21st 1982)
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Gail Fitzpatrick I read this book about 25 years ago. It is the most thorough, most comprehensive biography I have ever read. There are whole chapters on individual ch…moreI read this book about 25 years ago. It is the most thorough, most comprehensive biography I have ever read. There are whole chapters on individual characters who appear in the book, which would serve as the start of biographies on these character. You will never again find a biography as well-researched and beautifully written as this. (less)

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Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-writing
Not being American myself, I have no particular interest in US presidential history, unless that history can be shoehorned into an entertaining biopic, preferably with a British actor in the lead role. (I wonder who they’ll get to play Obama when the time comes. Liam Neeson?)

This book, though. This book is something else. ‘Political biography’ is too pissant a term for this Ahab-like undertaking. I’d call it a biographie-fleuve, but I don’t think that’s a real word even in French. Let’s just ca
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Knowing Lyndon Baines Johnson – understanding the character of the thirty-sixth President of the United States – is essential to understanding the history of the United States in the twentieth century. During his Presidency, his Great Society, with its education acts and civil-rights acts and anti-poverty acts, brought to crest tides of social change that had begun flowing during the New Deal a quarter of a century before; after his Presidency, the currents of social change were to flow – abrup ...more
Robert A. Caro is the best biographer in the history of the world. That's not hyperbole, that's using GPS to locate the author's credentials. This book is an intellectual tour de force by a tireless researcher who has enough flair to magisterially concoct a view into his subject in astounding details.

This book was written in 4k and beyond. I'm grateful that I had the ripening wherewithal to know about the project that was this biography. The topic was so fascinating that the historical figures l
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"...if Lyndon Johnson was not a reader of books, he was a reader of men--a reader with a rare ability to see into their souls."
-- Robert A Caro, The Path to Power


I'll write more tomorrow, but if the next three (and the final, yet to be written book) are as polished and well-researched as this one, this may end up being the definitive biography of any president. I loved Morris' Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy. It and Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton were nearly tied in my affection and es
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I had all four of Caro's LBJ books (with at least one more coming) on my shelf for many years before deciding to take the plunge. I'm a slow reader, as evidenced by the near six weeks it took me to finish this book.

LBJ has always fascinated me and I've always considered him one of our most interesting 20th Century Presidents. After reading the first volume of Caro, I still find Johnson fascinating and now know a LOT more about his early life than I previously knew (which was very little). Even
Jun 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, texas
I finished the first installment of the complete history of LBJ's political career just as I began working at the Texas Legislature. Lots of people think LBJ was a mean ole' SOB, but he was also enigmatic, visionary and had a great understanding of how to bust some balls for the good of the people. Caro has been banned from the LBJ Museum at UT-Austin because he doesn't portray LBJ as a warm and fuzzy guy. Despite the accounts of infidelty, great ego and down-right intimidating scariness, LBJ is ...more
James Thane
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Published in 1982, this is the first volume in Robert Caro's massive biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. Originally scheduled to run three volumes, the fourth has just been published and there is at least one more to follow. Caro has devoted the last forty years of his life to this project. He has done a staggering amount of research, which includes interviews with scores of the former president’s contemporaries, and the result is the most complete study of the life of LBJ that we are ever likely to ...more
Lauren Albert
Remarkable. I won't say it reads like a novel because it is history, good history. But it draws you in like a novel and is as well-written as a good novel. It is not just a biography of Johnson, it is a biography of a time and a place. And it is drawn so vividly that one feels anxieties about the outcome of events that were long ago decided.

He has long chapters that are not at all about Johnson but about people who, at some point, were important to his life or career and at one point, about the
Michael Finocchiaro

This was the extraordinary first in a series of 4 (and hopefully 5) volumes of Robert Caro's epic biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. This first volume talks of his family life in the Hill Country in Texas (roughly southwest of Austin) up to his loss in a race for a Senate seat in 1941. It is a wonderful book full of insight into his upbringing and his evolving sense of politics. He remains an ambiguous figure in American history and probably, had he not shit the bed with his failed policies on
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, favourites
This is a sensational opening to the LBJ biography series. I was blown away by the detail that Caro includes and the stories that he is able to weave, shedding both positive and negative lights on LBJ. It appears that no stone was left unturned and no person opinion was swept under the rug. Caro does a great job in this, the first of four massive volumes.

Caro uses a technique with which I am usually highly critical; that of tangential writing. He steers away from the story to tell a tale about s
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography

So far in my quest to read a biography of each President who held office during my lifetime, I have covered Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. I have been mostly content with the biographers I chose but Robert A Caro tops them all. He even managed to keep me interested for at least 80% of the time.

Reading presidential biographies feels a lot like being in school, except that most of the American history I studied in school was deeply slanted towards the sentiments that all of our Presidents were
Lyndon Johnson was not a particularly likable person. From childhood on he was a wheedling, two faced, sycophantic, mildly sociopathic wannabe politician who reeked of raw ambition. Spend enough time in his shoes though, and you start to accept him as part of the story being told, you begin to identify with him. He becomes almost likable.

This is just part of Robert Caro’s genius. Caro also happens to be a meticulous researcher and an engaging storyteller. Johnson provides a good lens through w
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” is the first volume in Robert Caro’s epic series covering the life of Lyndon B. Johnson. Caro is a former investigative reporter and the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies: “Master of the Senate” (the third volume in this series) and “The Power Broker” about the life of Robert Moses. Caro is currently working on the fifth (and, presumably, final) volume in his LBJ series.

Published in 1982, “The
Frank Stein
May 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For years I've shoved Caro's The Power Broker into people's hands like I got commission for it, like I was some kind of cheap pusher ("Just try it..."). It's the greatest nonfiction book I've ever read, hands down, bar none, no question. But the only other thing Caro ever wrote was this four volume (fourth volume still forthcoming, and he'll probably manage to split it up and turn it into two more door-stopping volumes) biography of Lyndon Johnson, and I knew there was no way I cared enough abou ...more
John Woltjer
Dec 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am currently reading Volume 3 of the 4 volumes Caro wrote about LBJ. What Caro has done here is to craft about as close to a perfect biography as is humanly possible. I am a former History teacher, and thought I knew LBJ well. But this series quite honestly does everything short of bring to life a hologram of Johnson, who comes alive in your presence and short of bleeding on your rug, lives with you as you progress through the series. My biggest challenge in writing this review is that I canno ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a veteran devourer of fiction, I believe that we don’t live in an age of great fiction. But we do seem to live in an age of great biographies. I have come late – about thirty years late – to volume 1 of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” this riveting account of the early life of Lyndon Johnson. Last year when I read excerpts from volume four, I knew I had to get to the beginning of Caro’s great opus, expected eventually to be five volumes. (Continue in good health, Robert Caro!)

Volume 1 illumine
Where is my ten-star function when I need it? I have been waiting all year to pick up a fantastic non-fiction book, something along the lines of Taylor Branch's civil rights trilogy, "The Warmth of Other Suns," "Mayflower," "The Beauty and the Sorrow," or "Behind the Beautiful Forevers." I'm going to echo the words of another reviewer who describes reading this series as one of the greatest pleasures of his reading life.

I selected this book because I've long been interested in LBJ's largely-over
Michael Perkins
This book needed a serious developmental edit. I've worn that hat in my own work, and it was clear to me how it could have been done.

For example, at one point I knew all I needed know about the eco-system of the Texas Hill Country, especially due to a shortage of rain, but the author kept on as if writing a white paper for an Ag journal. He also is TMI about Johnson’s ancestors. It's more than many readers can absorb. On the flip side, he quotes the same physical descriptions numerous times----
Ben Loory
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unbelievably great. One of those books that makes you want to knock every other book you've read down a star or two. A "I didn't know books could be this good" kind of book. ...more
Peter Beck
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents
“Before the paint had faded on the billboards proclaiming his loyalty to Franklin D., Lyndon B. had turned against him.” - p. 768

If I had to pick one quality presidential historian extraordinaire Robert Caro and LBJ share it would be meticulousness. Has any president’s life ever been so thoroughly dissected like this before? Readers willing to slog through this spralling 768-page biography of LBJ’s first 34 years will be rewarded with nuggets of superb writing and unforgettable scenes, but they
Christopher Saunders
After years of putting it off, I finally dove into Robert A. Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson series. Man, this guy can write. He has an historian's eye for detail, a reporter's gift for immediacy, a novelist's skill at characterization, context and narrative; the sort of absorptive historical writing that went out with Gibbon or, at least, Shelby Foote. Despite the often-doorstop lengths of his books, they are never dull. He makes 99 percent of other historians seem pedestrian and insignifica ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading--the entire trilogy is riveting and so well written.
Lyndon B. Johnson — what a magnificent, despicable, ingenious, unscrupulous, complicated bastard.

Johnson getting up in your personal space

Johnson was president when I was born, so I have no personal memory of him. And I had no particular interest in him until I saw the two Tony Award-winning plays about him: All the Way and The Great Society.

All the Way

These two plays covered Johnson's presidency, particularly his interactions with the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is little about his early life except what he relates in
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
What can I add to the countless superlatives that have been used to describe this book except to say that they are all well-deserved. After reading Caro’s first book, The Power Broker, I thought it the best biography I had read. Based on this first volume, The Path to Power, The Years of Lyndon Johnson is even better. The rich detail flows effortless into your mind, delivered with prose that is a pure pleasure to devour.

We get Johnson in full context. We learn all about his parents and grandpare
A little bit frustrating at first because it's hundreds of pages before you get to anything approaching politics. But that said, the stuff about Texan history, the Great Depression, and the soil conditions in the Hill Country are all fascinating in their own right.

The big thing in this book is the discovery of LBJ's signature move, a sort of entryism wherein he takes over usually a moribund institution and uses it to gain power in a larger institution: a secret fraternity lets him rig student el
4.75 Stars — What an undeniable achievement this first instalment of Caro’s masterpiece set is...

The researchers researcher is a master of storytelling. So much so that he can sweep up even the most un-cinematic content & make it so compelling, 35 pages passes & you wonder if you must have skipped 10-15 of them such is the absorbing nature of his prose.

However the most incredible component of this monster-read is that Caro manages to not portray and prejudice on his subject one way or the other,
Sep 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prior to reading Robert Caro’s book The Path to Power, I thought I had a reasonably good idea of who Lyndon Johnson was. After all, Johnson became President when I was in the eighth grade and he remained President until my freshman year in college. I remember hearing the chants on the evening news, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" The first hint that I might not know LBJ as well as I thought occurred when I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, a wor ...more
Erik Rostad
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-books
Amazing. You are a different person after reading this book. Yes, you learn about LBJ (the good, the bad, and the ugly - and the ugly is super ugly), but you also learn about the Hill Country of Texas, life for a farmer before electricity, and the political landscape in the USA in the 1930s and 40s. This book has been described as books within a book. That is true. It is so detailed but is not boring. I loved this book. I can't wait to read the other three books of the set next. ...more
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After finally getting around to Caro's Years of Lyndon Johnson (the first volume anyway), I have to say, I think its good reputation is deserved. Caro has done a masterful job here.

What stands out: Caro's working out of certain stated themes of Johnson's life throughout the volume (e.g., "if you do everything..."); his knack for narrative; his way of creating stories within and around the Story, so as to fully situate the reader in that world—it all feels very organic and thus very compelling.

Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Several years ago I watched the Tonight Show with Jay Leno when his guest was Bill Clinton who had not been president for ten or more years at the time. The former president talked about his successes in adhering to the Vegan diet -- how he felt great, had lost weight, and had become significantly more healthy. Jay asked him if there were any Vegan blacklisted foods that he particularly missed eating, and he replied that there were certain varieties of hard cheeses that he especially enjoyed and ...more
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Play Book Tag: The Path to Power - Robert A. Caro - 4 Stars 2 13 Mar 09, 2022 10:40AM  

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A former investigative reporter for Newsday, Robert Caro is the author of The Power Broker (1974), a biography of the urban planner Robert Moses which he won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. 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

Other books in the series

The Years of Lyndon Johnson (6 books)
  • Means of Ascent
  • Master of the Senate
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson Set: The Path to Power; Means of Ascent; Master of the Senate; The Passage of Power
  • The Passage of Power
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson (3 Volume set)

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