Synopses & Reviews
The Passage of Power
follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career: 1958 to 1964. 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."
"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)
"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)
"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
"A great work of history....A great biography...Caro has summoned Lyndon Johnson to vivid, intimate life." Newsweek
"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
"An addictive read, written in glorious prose that suggests the world's most diligent beat reporter channeling William Faulkner. Passage is an essential document of a turning point in American history. It's also an incisive portrait of one great, terrible, fascinating man suddenly given the chance to reinvent the country in his image." Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly
"One of the greatest biographies in the history of American letters." Bob Hoover, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"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
A New York Times
Top Ten Book of 2012
A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction
A Best Book of the Year: The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, St. Louis Dispatch
The Passage of Power follows Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career. It tells the story of his volatile relationship with John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy during the fight they waged for the 1960 Democratic nomination for president and through Johnson's unhappy vice presidency. It gives us for the first time the story of the assassination from the viewpoint of Lyndon Johnson himself. And with the depth of insight, the profound grasp of both the life and times of his subject that Robert Caro has consistently brought to this mesmerizing biography, it reveals what it was like to suddenly become president in a time of great crisis — an assumption of presidential power unprecedented in American history; how he stepped, unprepared, into the presidency and within weeks forced through Congress bills on the budget and civil rights that it had determined to let die; how through his singular political genius he set out to make the presidency his own, and to fulfill the highest purpose of the office. It is Johnson's finest hour, before his aspirations and his accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam.
About the Author
For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.
To create his first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro spent seven years tracing and talking with hundreds of men and women who worked with, for, or against Robert Moses, including a score of his top aides. He examined mountains of files never opened to the public. Everywhere acclaimed as a modern classic, The Power Broker was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. It is, according to David Halberstam, “Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.” And The New York Times Book Review said: “In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort.”
To research The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Caro and his wife, Ina, moved from his native New York City to the Texas Hill Country and then to Washington, D.C., to live in the locales in which Johnson grew up and in which he built, while still young, his first political machine. He has spent years examining documents at the Johnson Library in Austin and interviewing men and women connected with Johnson’s life, many of whom had never before been interviewed. The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as “proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are–let it be said flat out–at the summit of American historical writing.” Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, “brilliant. No brief review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born.” And the London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as “a masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.” In 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.
“Caro has a unique place among American political biographers,” according to The Boston Globe. “He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”
Caro graduated from Princeton University and later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, an historian and writer.