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The Path to Power

(The Years of Lyndon Johnson #1)

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  17,869 ratings  ·  965 reviews
The Years of Lyndon Johnson is the political biography of our time. No president—no era of American politics—has been so intensively and sharply examined at a time when so many prime witnesses to hitherto untold or misinterpreted facets of a life, a career, and a period of history could still be persuaded to speak.

The Path to Power, Book One, reveals in extraordinary deta
Paperback, 882 pages
Published February 17th 1990 by Vintage (first published November 21st 1982)
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Lee Hurwitz The ends justify the means. LBJ was corrupt, a womanizer, and a pathological liar. But, he got things done. In 1949, his first speech on the Senate fl…moreThe ends justify the means. LBJ was corrupt, a womanizer, and a pathological liar. But, he got things done. In 1949, his first speech on the Senate floor is referred to as the "we of the south speech" where he ripped into civil rights and said that the Yankee Northerners had no business dictating how Southerners should treat their citizens. After this speech, Johnson was congratulated by the segregationist Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. When he was President, he once said to a group of aides "I've had more women by accident than Kennedy had on purpose". He was a Southerner who used road projects, public works projects, university subsidies, and other goodies to one-by-one pick off Northern and Western filibuster supporters to break the previously impregnable filibuster and sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson was a great man. He had many flaws, but he was a great man.(less)

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Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
“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
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"...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
Jun 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: LBJ lovers
Shelves: texas, non-fiction
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
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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
John Woltjer
Dec 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing

“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
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Frank Stein
May 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, audiobook
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
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Peter Beck
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Ben Loory
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: New Dealers, Texans, farmers, Austinites, young Congressmen
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 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Probably the best biography I've ever read. Robert Caro has created an almost incredibly detailed and excellent study of a man and the historical situation around him. I know more about the Texas Hill Country, its geological and human history, from the first two chapters, than about any other plot of land I could name. Chapter 27 on life as a poor pre-electrification farmer--same in the 1930s in west Texas as in the 1600s anywhere, evidently--is deeply powerful as a explication of a life of m
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It would be difficult to overstate the breadth of this book, which covers Lyndon Johnson's life up to his failed bid to move to the Senate from the House in 1941. Author Robert Caro, no question a great writer, offers lengthy vignettes on everything from the Hill Country where Johnson grew up to a classic description of the powerful but lonely House Speaker Sam Rayburn. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that also delves at length into the down and dirty of how Johnson came to power through mon ...more
Christopher Saunders
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads, favorites
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
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was looooong! I wouldn't cut anything, though. As with other Robert Caro books, the content covers far, far more than the biographical subject. I read all about the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration, Sam Rayburn, "Cactus Jack" Garner, Texas machine politics, the ecology of the Texas Hill Country, and the creation of a little company called Brown and Root.

When it comes to Lyndon Johnson, it fills in a lot of pre-history referenced in the other books and just makes me even m
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took me a month to read this but it was well worth the effort. At times, I thought of skipping to the last book (so far) in the series which covers when Johnson became president, but I never felt like giving up this one despite its size and how detailed it is. By the end, I was hooked and well up for reading the whole series. Think what makes it great is that it isn't just about Lyndon Johnson but like it says in the title, about "the years of Lyndon Johnson" - it's really a history book about t ...more
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I learned more about US politics from this book than almost any other. It's a real treasure. Starts off with an incredible description of the Texas Hill Country where LBJ grew up. Then describes his childhood and political development in college. The bulk of the book though shows how LBJ maneuvered through New Deal DC, making allies and using New Deal programs to benefit his sponsors. By the end of the book (and FDR's death) of course LBJ, who had portrayed himself as a liberal, betrays the New ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading--the entire trilogy is riveting and so well written.
Susan O
I am so glad that I finally pulled The Path to Power off of my shelf to read. Caro's superb writing made reading about an admittedly unlikeable man a pleasure. I thought I would take a break before reading the second volume, but the end of this one changed my mind, so I've already started volume two. There are four volumes of Caro's biography of LBJ with an anticipated fifth, so as you can imagine it is very detailed. This volume covers LBJ's childhood and family history up through his campaign ...more
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"This book. 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 call it a great big fucking book, in every sense of the various adjectives.

People are going to be arguing about Robert Caro’s portrayal of Lyndon Johnson for decades to come, but even on the most generous interpretation of the facts, it seems pretty clear that the 36th POTUS was at onc
Daniel King
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As someone who rarely reads non-fiction, and has little interest in the intricacies of American politics, I was somewhat surprised, when I got through the first hundred or so pages, to find myself loving Caro's account of the early life and political career of LBJ. I picked up the book for two reasons. Number one: I've always been fascinated by the Vietnam conflict and Johnson played a significant role in turning Vietnam into the fiasco that it eventually became. My second reason, admittedly rat ...more
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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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)
  • Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2)
  • Master of the Senate
  • The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4)

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