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Means of Ascent

(The Years of Lyndon Johnson #2)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  24,617 ratings  ·  665 reviews
Robert A. Caro's life of Lyndon Johnson, which began with the greatly acclaimed The Path to Power, also winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, continues -- one of the richest, most intensive and most revealing examinations ever undertaken of an American President. In Means of Ascent the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer/historian, chronicler also of Robert Moses ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published March 6th 1991 by Vintage (first published March 7th 1990)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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Dec 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
To say that Means of Ascent does not reach the towering heights of Caro's first volume of his Years of Lyndon Johnson is no slight. Path to Power is one of the greatest feats of biography I've ever read. The only reason Means falls short is because it happens to dwell on LBJ's wilderness years.

This was the time between his first failed senate run, during a special election, and his second, successful senate run, which culminated in the famed "87 votes that changed America." During these 7 years
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: presidents
Only 488 prior reviews of the second volume of Caro's LBJ bio. The major details of this relatively slim book (in comparison to the other 3 volumes) have been hashed and rehashed. I'm hoping to craft an arresting and apposite summation worthy to stand beside the many great reviews preceding me. Not sure I have the chops to do it, but what the hell.

I ended up liking this book a bit more, even, than Caro's first volume (The Path to Power). In this second volume, Caro really seemed to hit his strid
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, 2017
"A platform, he said in his dry way, was like a Mother Hubbard dress: it covered everything and touched nothing. Platforms and campaign promises were meaningless; politicians issued them or made them, and then as soon as they were elected forgot them."
- Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent, quoting Coke Stephenson


This was a different book from Caro's Vol. 1 of the Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 'The Path to Power' detailed the rise and early history of LBJ. It set the table. It showed L
James Thane
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This is the second volume (of four thus far) in Robert Caro's magisterial biography of former president Lyndon B. Johnson. It treats the period from mid-1941, when Johnson lost a special election for the U.S. Senate, through 1948, when Johnson won election to the Senate in a hotly contested and heatedly disputed primary election. Johnson was crushed by his loss in 1941, and believed that the election had been stolen from him by an opponent who was more clever than he. He vowed it would never hap ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, favourites
In reading Caro’s second volume of the LBJ biography series, I was completely blown away. While some call it the lesser exciting of Caro’s first two volumes depicting LBJ’s Texas life and early congressional years, I felt that it helped shape the image of the president I knew from the history books. Means of Ascent is by no means a shrinking violet in the literary world, though its action does, perhaps, pale when placed against its older sibling, Path to Power. Still, Caro brings to life those y ...more
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What was I thinking? I have read every word Caro has written, but I had imagined I could skip this one because nothing really happened and I'd already read the over 200o pages of the Johnson series. But I had forgotten why I had been reading them in the first place. It wasn't about plot or to find out what happened or didn't happen to Johnson. It was to read Caro write! Duh. The man is the best writer I've ever read and I have fully atoned for my error in believing that it was a good idea to ski ...more
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I know perfectly well how Lyndon Johnson’s life turned out, yet I was urgently turning the pages as his 1948 run for the Senate played out its sordid finish in this second volume of Robert Caro’s monumental biography. A biography researched and documented, yes; but a narrative stranger than fiction.

“Means of Ascent” covers seven years of Johnson’s life, comprising his brief (and greatly aggrandized) career in the Navy in World War II and the beginnings of his considerable fortune through ownersh
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-read, acob
Pamela Paul editor of the NYT Book review gave me the idea to completely read The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I am reading them slowly, mostly at night (or in the morning after night shift) before I go to sleep. This shortish volume took 4 months and I have the next one ready to go. I am loving them, not only for the deep dive into the life of this morally challenged small town Texan who became President, but for the explanation of the machinations that guided mid 20th century politics. Robert Caro ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it

“Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” is the second volume in Robert Caro’s 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 1990, “Means of
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The second volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson tells the story of LBJ's rise from a mere Congressman, one with little hope for significant advancement, to his unlikely election to the U.S. Senate. The majority of the pages describe Johnson's relentless, ruthless, expensive, and dishonest campaign against former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson for the 1948 Democratic nomination, which Johnson officially (but far from legitimately) won by 87 votes.

Texas at the time was a one-party state – with the
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The second volume of Caro's biography of Lyndon B Johnson is the sordid tale of how he stole his election to the US Senate. That is right. He did! At the time, he was accused of doing so but not busted for it. It was 1948, he lawyered up and escaped justice in the courts. Caro did the research and uncovered facts that had been buried for decades.

Coming in at 412 actual reading pages (not counting notes and index) this volume is approximately half the length of Volume 1, The Path to Power. It c
Stewart Mitchell
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Caro's massive, unending biography of Lyndon Johnson's life continues in spectacular fashion in this book, the second volume in his Years of Lyndon Johnson series.

This volume covers the years in between Johnson's first (failed) attempt at a Senate position and his eventual victory over Coke Stevenson to earn one in 1949. As Caro describes in the immersive introductory chapter, these were Johnson's "dark years". These were the years in which he took a backseat to politics and built up a fortune,
Ofke Teekens
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic second volume of Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, including the controversial and nail-biting Senate campaign in 1948. Caro not only focuses on Johnson, but also brilliantly describes the political climate and historical context. (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Part II.)
Christopher Saunders
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
The Means of Ascent, the shortest volume of Robert Caro's LBJ series by far (at "just" 500 pages), continues in this vein, describing Johnson's WWII service (an uneventful term as a naval inspector and intelligence officer, capped by a single combat mission he blew into an act of epochal heroism), his struggle to find a footing in postwar, post-FDR Washington (he did not get along with Truman at all), and most of all his successful Senate run against Coke Stevenson in 1948. The latter takes up n ...more
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
Great book.
The author chronicles the life of LBJ from 1941 to 1948 in 3 acts:

- His record as a naval officer in the Pacific (where Johnson spent a total of 13 minutes in combat zone despite all the fake stories he made up to appeal to Texas voters)

- His acquisition of a radio station to make some money outside of politics

- the 1948 democratic senate race against Coke Stevenson

I enjoy reading Caro for his taste of details and description of Texas politics. Only minor critic is that Stevenson i
Jesse Kraai
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1990s, america, history
Lance Armstrong was a pivotal moment for me. Not only that he cheated so successfully, but also that he lied so well.
I now assume the worst for every athlete at the top.
LBJ is a similar experience, with the difference that his omerta is much larger, so many more people involved, and that there was so much more at stake.
I guess I could limit my conclusion to saying that Texans are liars. And that is at least partly true.

I'm on to vol. III. I took one star off simply because I felt Caro unnecessar
Jessica Brown
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In my view the best of the 3 Caro books on Johnson. (All are great.) He made me care about Coke Stephenson someone I'd never heard of before. I'm just hopefully Caro stays healthy enough to finish this wonderful series. ...more
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I was halfway through a long review when I inadvertently obliterated it with the heel of my hand. I'm too frustrated right now to reconstruct my work. ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent - Robert A. Caro

Spoiler Alert: This book is not for the politically squeamish nor the faint of heart.

This is the fourth biography I have read about LBJ. It is also the second of four (a promised fifth still to come) focused on LBJ's life by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author, Robert Caro. Like all of LBJ's biographers, Caro must come to grip with the man's insatiable need to be in control - unlike the other biographers I have read
Antonio Nunez
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I first heard of this book in 2001, when the Sunday Times of London asked William Hague, former chief of the UK Conservative Party, which book would he take to a desert island. At the time Hague was licking his wounds after having been mauled in Parliamentary elections, and was forced to step down as Party Leader. He was defeated by one of the most brilliant and ruthless political operators this country has known since the days of Baroness Thatcher, Tony Blair. Having seen the book in a used-boo ...more
Chris Chester
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As a frequent reader of science fiction and fantasy, I am accustomed to consuming works that wind up feeling interstitial. Authors pursuing grand narratives often have set beats that they want to hit between major plot milestones and those beats, essential though they are, are sometimes puffed up larger than they need to be to justify standing on their own.

That is certainly what Means of Ascent feels like. The essential plot point is that in 1948, Lyndon Johnson steals a Senate election from Cok
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 19.08.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: C+
#ccspin nr 18
This book was about LBJ but it did spur me on learn more about the defeated candidate
in the 1948 race for Texas senator...
'Coke' Stevens and the democratic political boss
that put LBJ in the 1948 senate:
The Duke of Duval...George Berham Parr


Mack Hayden
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Caro keeps the car running brilliantly in this second installment. On the one hand, it's an almost impossibly comprehensive chronicle of Johnson's years between losing one Senate race and stealing another, as well as a terrific general account of the era. But on the other, as with the first, this book is a study in the ways ambition and the hunger for power function in America even to this day. Johnson would take any position, tell any lie, make any underhanded deal he could to move upward on th ...more
Glen Bowman
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Like Path to Power this is detailed rich history. It is very critical of LBJ, but the author warns us at the outset that LBJs life was interwoven strands of good and bad , but that there would not be good in this volume. His opponent in the 1948 Senate race that he allegedly stole, Coke Stephenson, is made to seem almost inhumanly righteous by Caro. So much so that it became impossible to believe. There was nothing this man did that was not bigger than life.
That said, Caro is clearly a master b
Justin Matthews
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Caro again! Back at it (for me, anyway) with this second volume, which spans the years between Johnson's 1941 senatorial loss and his highly-dubious, highly-unethical 1948 senatorial victory.

As with his first volume, Caro glues it all together with his themes, chief among them this time being the Old Politics embodied by Coke Stevenson versus the New Politics pioneered by Johnson. Caro states his themes often (e.g., Johnson's "morality which is amorality"), and in a lot of books that sort of th
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Enthralling and disturbing book, which covers the period from 1941 until the 1948 Texas Democratic senatorial primary, between Lyndon Johnson and Coke Stevenson. Caro chronicles Johnson’s “utter ruthlessness . . . and a seemingly bottomless capacity for deceit, deception and betrayal.” The title brilliant captures not just how LBJ ascended to power, but also on the age-old debate over ends and means—how the dark features of LBJ’s character meshed with and ran parallel to virtuous initiatives. Th ...more
Alex O'Connor
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Despite my delays in finishing this (other books took precedence) I really, really enjoyed this book. Magnificently researched and written, it has truly set the bar very high for future biographies that I read.
Joe Martin

I loved the first volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power. I’d ever read a better biography. I’ve still never read a better one but I’ve now read one that’s just as good.

This book really succeeds because it’s essentially four stories in one book.

Chapters 1–5 are the story of Johnson’s later years in Congress and what he did during World War II. (Johnson spent most of the war avoid danger and then flew into danger, literally, at the last minute in order to have some

May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This volume of Robert Caro's epic multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson would seem to be inessential. LBJ is cast to the political wilderness after the death of FDR, his greatest booster, and from the description, it sounds like it will be Lyndon kicking a can down a dusty road and feeling sorry for himself. Do not be deterred! I enjoyed it even more than the first volume. It has personal intrigue, cutthroat business deals, vicious political maneuvering, courtroom drama, and my favorite thing, ...more
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now *THAT’s* a stolen election!
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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 (4 books)
  • The Path to Power
  • Master of the Senate
  • The Passage of Power

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