The author, Caro, alludes to Shakespearian tragedy in this analysis of power – flawed characters play out the repercussions of JFK’s assassination. Mere humans are required to have the perfection of Greek Gods in a background of global nuclear threat. After all, it had only been the year since the Cuban Crisis, and 13 years since MacArthur urged Truman to use nuclear force in Korea.
And, speaking of Truman. Caro argues that LBJ took power at a uniquely difficult time in history. But I think he understates Truman’s situation, taking over during a World War and deciding to use nuclear force to end the war.
Anyway, regardless, Johnson’s task was herculean. This contrasted with the reality of small human thinking as exemplified in the influential feud between Robert Kennedy and LBJ. Caro constructs a picture of LBJ’s vulnerabilities, and their causes. How frustrating (what an understatement!) to find that LBJ couldn't immediately transcend them upon becoming president. He was actually thinking that Robert Kennedy might be undermining him when the poor man would have been overwhelmed by shock and grief. On the other hand, LBJ did get to work immediately with very clear concepts of maintaining domestic and global stability and focused on continuity with the JFK administration. But first things first: he needed to be photographed taking the oath with Mrs Kennedy standing next to him to legitimise his ascension -- strategic thinking indeed.
Caro argues that LBJ was largely selected as Vice President to bring the southern vote and thereafter was significantly sidelined by the Kennedy administration. As a result, he was deeply frustrated by having no role, all his very considerable skills (notably in legislation) were unused, and he was a bored, overweight, unhappy man. So when he was called into action he was fulfilling his presidential aspirations but had to plead for help from the Kennedy teams because he simply did not know what was going on. Not only did he want to be an authentic leader, but also wanted to enact legislation that would lead to a more liberal society.
I felt Caro over explained LBJ. I was unimpressed by the argument that key personality traits resulted in disappointment for his father’s perceived ‘failures’ and how he aspired never to be like him and dreaded being so despised and rejected by society when forced into a life of supposed poverty and deprivation. I personally found LBJ’s filial disloyalty and complete lack of understanding abhorrent. Again, Caro praises him for his immediately clear minded response to leadership. But LBJ had been a soldier, (unheroic) and deaths in the field demand continuity and discipline. Of course he should react as he did – that was his job -- the VP was the nation’s life insurance to ensure leadership.
Furthermore,LBJ was a manipulative bully ( tears, gushing with compliments, delivering an unblinking stare). Unresolved question: was his authoritarian approach appropriate for this moment of history?
This book is full of the foibles of humanity. If the task of the historian is to draw lessons from the past, many lessons are offered in this pivotal moment in US and world history.
When the book ended with masterful and authoritative flourishes, I rather felt as if I had been reading Homer. The Greek gods decreed whether people and civilisations lived or died -- mere humans in power had the option to please or defy them. The rest of humanity was just, well, an adjunct to the Big Games.
All in all, a fascinating history, masterfully read by Grover Gardner who applies appropriate gravitas coupled with a lack of sentimentality.
This is a lesson in how government works in addition to a history lesson. The part about the Kennedy assassination made me cry just like I did when it happened and I was only 15 years old. The part about the passage of the civil rights legislation has more tension in it than many suspense novels I've listened to.
We shouldn't expect our governmental leaders to be without fault. Johnson had many, but he was a great man.
Now I'll need to spend my credits for the next few months listening to the earlier volumes on Johnson.
Avid general reader with a fondness for British and Irish Writers and world history.
You have to give LBJ credit (and I'm not an American). He could be abrasive but it is obvious that he had the best interest of his country in mind at all times. It is hard to imagine him being graceful but he took on the role at one of the most awkward and divisive times in American History with a grace which is surprising, given his background and history and with as significant dignity (in pubic) that must have made American's proud.
The story was well documented, which is frequently not the case, with biographies.
The subject of the book. Johnson was so full of conflict....good and bad. But he was still a good and decent man. Compare him to politicians today and you will find many of the same faults. But in the end....he got things done and that is what counts in a leader.
BIography...so it is all true. And Caro gets into every detail, conversation. He really makes you feel like you were there minute by minute.
No. Impossible....for me.
Caro's extraordinary research of details and intimate conversations provides an amazing view of how LBJ was able to implement and build on Kennedy's agenda. I listened as I walked and each step of journey was memorable. There are few historians that have captured a time and its politicians with the vibrancy and urgency of this writer.
His reading was smooth yet gripping and made this work of history as exciting as a novel
Caro presents the Johnson of history, the JOhnson who struggled with brash aggression coiupled with compliments for his colleagues and adversaries to be the most powerful person in the world. The reader can sense this dramatic stuggle through the text.
The book on Johnson by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
It is well done. Like JOhnson, he contorts his voice when speaking of other as if he were others.
I've not finished the book.
Well written and easily read while erudite in presentation.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is a lesson in why Clinton would have been a better option than Obama and why JFK was probably all style and little substance.
How clever Johnson was in passing the the civil rights act of 1964
The assassination of JFK and how even then people knew that something was wrong with the lone gunman theory.
Although the cast of characters is large, the care for detail taken by Caro paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of their behavior and their motivations. One senses that Caro carefully weighed each bit of historical information to see what political prism was used in its writing and thereby divines a balanced truth about the events. Since much has been written about those times, and since we are talking about politics, it would have been very easy for Caro to buy into the writings of respected historians and the spin with which they were written. Instead, he takes pains to document a true picture in a way that makes him stand a cut above other historians. It is a big book and is indeed filled with detail but it he still manages to make it exciting.
Yes, it's a fascinating read. I was reading it for a bookclub & really didn't think I was going to be that interested in it. But, it's really made history come alive... and a reminder of how very human politicians are.... and what happens when personalities become more important than principles.
This is an excellent addition to Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson. The combination of drama, character study and political detail makes this totally engrossing. I can’t wait for the next volume.
While Caro’s account of the assassination has received considerable attention, I found that his description of Johnson’s consolidation of power afterwards to be equally, if not more, compelling. The account of his working Congress to pass the landmark civil rights bill and other social bills of the War on Poverty keeps the reader (listener) on the edge of his seat. The specter of Vietnam haunts the text.
Mustering Congressional support to pass the civil rights bill.
Grover Gardner gets this one just right.