Synopses & Reviews
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 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."
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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)
A publishing event: the fourth volume in Robert Caro's monumental biography, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, which began with the best-selling and prize-winning The Path to Power, Means of Ascent,
and Master of the Senate.
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
Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award, 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 “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2010, President Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal.
Caro lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, an historian and writer.