The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert A. Caro. Knopf, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-0-679-40507-8
Caro’s Pulitzer-winning multivolume biography reaches a magisterial climax (though not its Vietnam era denouement) in this riveting account of Johnson’s vice-presidency in the Kennedy administration and early presidency through 1964. 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 penetrating study of competing power modes pits Kennedyesque charisma against Johnson’s brilliant parliamentary street-fighting, backroom arm-twisting, and canny manipulation of personal motives, all made vivid by rich profiles: JFK, the polished, amused aristocrat; Bobby, the brutal, guilt-haunted zealot; Johnson, the uncouth neurotic—egomaniacal, insecure, sycophantic as an underling, sadistic as a boss, ruthless and corrupt yet possessed of an empathy for the downtrodden (he picked cotton in his penniless youth) that outshines Camelot’s noblesse oblige. The author’s Shakespearean view of power—all court intrigue, pageantry, and warring psychological drives—barely acknowledges the social movements that made possible Johnson’s legislative triumphs. But Caro’s ugly, 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 and paralyzed leadership. Photos. 300,000 announced first printing. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow and Nesbit. (May 1)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
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