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Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece.”
The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.
By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket. With the consummate skill of a master storyteller, he exposes the savage animosity between Johnson and Kennedy’s younger brother, portraying one of America’s great political feuds. Yet Robert Kennedy’s overt contempt for Johnson was only part of the burden of humiliation and isolation he bore as Vice President. With a singular understanding of Johnson’s heart and mind, Caro describes what it was like for this mighty politician to find himself altogether powerless in a world in which power is the crucial commodity.
For the first time, in Caro’s breathtakingly vivid narrative, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks—grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own. This was without doubt Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam.
In its exploration of this pivotal period in Johnson’s life—and in the life of the nation—The Passage of Power is not only the story of how he surmounted unprecedented obstacles in order to fulfill the highest purpose of the presidency but is, as well, a revelation of both the pragmatic potential in the presidency and what can be accomplished when the chief executive has the vision and determination to move beyond the pragmatic and initiate programs designed to transform a nation. It is an epic story told with a depth of detail possible only through the peerless research that forms the foundation of Robert Caro’s work, confirming Nicholas von Hoffman’s verdict that “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”
“Epic. . . . A searing account of ambition derailed by personal demons . . . a triumphant drama of ‘political genius in action.’. . . Caro combines the skills of a historian, an investigative reporter and a novelist in this searching study of the transformative effect of power.” —Wendy Smith, Los Angeles Times
“Making ordinary politics and policymaking riveting and revealing is what makes Caro a genius. Combined with his penetrating insight and fanatical research, Caro’s Churchill-like prose elevates the life of a fairly influential president to stuff worthy of Shakespeare. . . . Reading Caro’s books can feel like encountering the life of an American president for the first time. . . . Caro’s judgment is solid, his prose inspiring, and his research breathtaking. . . . Robert Caro stands alone as the unquestioned master of the contemporary American political biography.” —Jordan Michael Smith, The Boston Globe
“Riveting. . . . Masterful. . . . An insightful account of what it means and what it takes to occupy the Oval Office.” —Steve Paul, The Kansas City Star
“Unrivaled. . . . Caro does not merely recount. He beckons. Single sentences turn into winding, brimming paragraphs, clauses upon clauses tugging at the reader, layering the scenery with character intrigue and the plot with historical import. The result is irresistible. . . . Passage covers with all the artistry and intrigue of a great novel events that are seared in the nation’s memory. In an era defined by fragmented media markets, instantaneous communication, gadflies and chattering suits, Caro stands not merely apart, but alone.” —William Howell, San Francisco Chronicle
“A meditation on power as profound as Machiavelli’s.” —Lara Marlowe, Irish Times
“Brilliant. . . . Important. . . . Remarkable. . . . With this fascinating and meticulous account Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.” —Bill Clinton, The New York Times Book Review (front cover)
“A great work of history. . . . A great biography. . . . Caro has summoned Lyndon Johnson to vivid, intimate life.” —Newsweek
“A masterly how-to manual, showing Johnson’s knowledge of governing, his peerless congressional maneuvering and effective deal-making. The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a compact library: brilliant biography, gripping history, searing political drama and an incomparable study of power. It’s also a great read. . . . And, after thousands of pages spent with Lyndon Johnson, one of Caro’s singular achievements is that you want more.” —Peter Gianotti, Newsday
“One of the greatest biographies in the history of American letters.” —Bob Hoover, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson, when completed, will rank as America’s most ambitiously conceived, assiduously researched and compulsively readable political biography. . . . When Caro’s fifth volume arrives, readers’ gratitude will be exceeded only by their regret that there will not be a sixth.” —George F. Will
“This book shows the mastery of Johnson in politics, and also the mastery of Caro in biography.” —David M. Shribman, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
“Caro’s strength as a biographer is his ability to probe Johnson’s mind and motivations. . . . Riveting. . . . A roller-coaster tale.” —The Economist
“The latest in what is almost without question the greatest political biography in modern times. . . . Nobody goes deeper, works harder or produces more penetrating insights than [Caro]” —Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman
“As riveting as a thriller. . . . The next book will crown an achievement in presidential biography unmatched among presidential histories.” —David Hendricks, Houston Chronicle
“Caro has once again shown that he might well be the greatest presidential historian we’ve ever had. . . . Although the amount of research Caro has done for these books is staggering, it’s his immense talent as a writer that has made his biography of Johnson one of America’s most amazing literary achievements. . . . Caro’s chronicle is as absorbing as a political thriller. . . . There’s not a wasted word, not a needless anecdote. . . . Most impressively, Caro comes closer than any other historian could to explaining the famously complex LBJ. . . . Caro’s portrayal of the president is as scrupulously fair as it is passionate and deeply felt. . . . The series is a masterpiece, unlike any other work of American history published in the past. It’s true that there will never be another Lyndon B. Johnson, but there will never be another Robert A. Caro, either. By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, he’s forever changed the way we think, and read, American history.” —Michael Schaub, NPR
“Long live Robert Caro. . . . Truly epic political history and character study. . . . Riveting. . . . It elevates Caro’s tale to Shakespearean drama, as the coldhearted, Machiavellian maneuvering and hot-blooded rivalries of supremely ambitious men play out with the fate of the free world at stake.” —Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A breathtakingly dramatic story about a pivotal moment in United States history [told] with consummate artistry and ardor. . . . It showcases Mr. Caro’s masterly gifts as a writer: his propulsive sense of narrative, his talent for enabling readers to see and feel history in the making and his ability to situate his subjects’ actions within the context of their times. . . . Caro manages to lend even much-chronicled events a punch of tactile immediacy. . . . Johnson emerges as both a larger-than-life, Shakespearean personage—with epic ambition and epic flaws—and a more human-scale puzzle. . . . Taken together the installments of Mr. Caro’s monumental life of Johnson so far not only create a minutely detailed picture of an immensely complicated and conflicted individual, but they also form a revealing prism by which to view the better part of a century in American life and politics during which the country experienced tumultuous and divisive social change. . . . Mr. Caro’s descriptions of Johnson—and those of John and Robert Kennedy–have a novelistic depth and amplitude. He gives us a rich sense here of how past experiences shaped their interactions, how one encounter or misunderstanding often snowballed into another, and how Johnson and Robert Kennedy evinced a capacity to grow and change. Even more impressive in these pages is Mr. Caro’s ability to convey, on a visceral level, how daunting the challenges were facing Johnson upon his assumption of the presidency and the magnitude of his accomplishments in the months after Kennedy’s assassination. . . . Mr. Caro uses his storytelling gifts to turn seemingly arcane legislative maneuvers into action-movie suspense, and he gives us unparalleled understanding—step by step, sometimes minute by minute—of how Johnson used a crisis and his own political acumen to implement his agenda with stunning speed: a test of leadership and governance that political addicts and more casual readers alike will find fascinating, given the gridlock in Washington today. . . . Engrossing.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“The fourth volume of one of the most anticipated English-language biographies of the past 30 years . . . A compelling narrative . . . that will thrill those who care about American politics, the foundations of power, or both . . . Before beginning the Johnson biography, Caro published a life of Robert Moses, The Power Broker (1974), a book many scholars consider a watershed in contemporary biography. The Johnson project deserves equal praise.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
“Riveting. . . . Shakespearean . . . It’s a roller-coaster narrative as Johnson plummets from the powerful Senate majority leader post to vice-presidential irrelevance, hated and humiliated by the Kennedy brothers, then surges to presidential authority with the crack of Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle and forces a revolutionary civil rights act through a recalcitrant Congress. . . .Caro’s tormented, heroic Johnson makes an apt embodiment of an America struggling toward epochal change, one with a fascinating resonance in our era of gridlocked government.” —Publishers Weekly (Boxed, Starred)
“A major event in biography, history, even publishing itself. . . . Caro has once more combined prodigious research and a literary gift to mount a stage for his Shakespearean figures: LBJ, JFK, and LBJ’s nemesis Robert F. Kennedy.” —Library Journal (Starred)
“Brilliant. . . .Riveting reading from beginning to end. . . .The real tour de force in this stunning mix of political and psychological analysis comes in the account of the transition between administrations, from November 23, 1963 to January 8, 1964. . . . An utterly fascinating character study, brimming with delicious insider stories. . . . Political wonks, of course, will dive into this book with unbridled passion, but its focus on a larger-than-life, flawed but fascinating individual—the kind of character who drives epic fiction—should extend its reach much, much further. Unquestionably, one of the truly big books of the year.” —Booklist (Starred)