The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro

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The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The first part of the ultimate - and probably unsurpassable - biography of Lyndon Johnson. It's not just a biography but a brilliantly-written slice of American history. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 40.29 hours Date: December 2013
Publisher: Audible
ISBN: 978-0002170628

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Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, preceded by John F Kennedy and succeeded by Richard Nixon, with both being remembered most for the way they left office. Johnson's five-year term in office was overshadowed at the start by the Kennedy assassination and increasingly blighted by the debacle which was Vietnam, but there was something about Johnson which always intrigued me: how does a poor boy from Texas hill country without an exceptional (or even 'good') education become president of the United States? The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power tells you all that you need to know.

With a non-fiction book it's my habit to make copious notes for the review: with The Path to Power I rapidly realised that there was no point in doing so. The basic facts of Johnson's life are clear. He was born in Stonewall, in the Texas hill country in August 1908, the elder son of Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr and Rebekah Baines Johnson. His father was a talented politician but financially challenged and Johnson veered from following his father like s shadow (in his more successful days) to despising him. He would eventually go to Southwest Texas State Teachers' College, but politics was in his blood and he soon went to Washington as secretary to Congressman Richard M Kleberg. It was here that Johnson would form many of the connections which would support his own political career.

Originally published in hardback in 1983, the book is given immediacy by the fact that many of the people Caro spoke to about Johnson were still alive. It's a tribute to Caro's skills that he persuaded people to talk openly and usually on the record about Johnson, who had been remarkably secretive when he was alive and went to strange lengths to remove documentation about himself. What I quickly realised was that the more I found out about the man, the less I liked him. There's no denying that he was a man of exceptional political genius - but he completely lacked any moral foundation.

This first volume of Caro's magnum opus on Johnson takes us from his birth in 1908 through - in detail - to 1941 when Johnson was defeated in an election to the Senate and with a broad overview of what happened before he ran for the Senate again. I listened to it as an audio book - and I'll confess that I did wonder quite what I was taking on, as the total listening time (in five parts) is over forty hours. The book is read by Grover Gardner and he makes a superb narrator, bringing out the meaning without feeling the need to allow his own personality to intrude. The sound quality is excellent and this combined with the well-chosen narrator made for a comfortable read.

Comfortable reads mean nothing though if what you are hearing doesn't hold you and this is difficult to achieve in a book of this length. I assumed that there would be parts which didn't hold my attention - but they never happened. Caro doesn't just cover Johnson's life in exquisite detail - he looks at his forebears and what made them the people they were. He examines the circumstances which brought them to Texas and the climatic conditions which made the hill country an unwise choice.

The same format is followed throughout the book: for any part of Johnson's life you'll come to understand what brought all the people involved to that point - you'll know them as well as you'll know Johnson. This produces some illuminating biographical vignettes, such as the one of Congressman Sam Rayburn who would become the longest-serving Speaker of the US House of Representatives. It was a name I knew, a position I understood - now I know the man. But this is just one amongst many which you'll come across. I'd not been listening for half an hour before I realised that until I'd listened to it all I would forgo television, radio, music - in fact anything which took me away from the book.

The book is also also available as a paperback, but we'd like to thank Audible for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For further reading we can offer nothing which is comparable but if you enjoy vignettes of American politicians you might appreciate American Caesars: Lives of the US Presidents, from Franklin D Roosevelt to George W Bush by Nigel Hamilton. The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After by Steven M Gillon covers the first day of the Johnson presidency in some detail, but moving forward Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein looks at Richard Nixon.

Buy The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro at Amazon You could get a free audio download of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert A Caro at Amazon.com.


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