Thursday, May 10, 2018

Means of Ascent by Robert Caro

My book for May is Means of Ascent by Robert Caro. For Christmas, Drew gave me The Passage of Power, the fourth book in Caro's planned five book biography of Lyndon Johnson. I decided to buy the first book and start at the beginning. I finished the first volume [The Path to Power] in March. This is the second volume. This book fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents.

The book covers just seven years of Lyndon Johnson's life. It examines the period from the aftermath of his first run for the Senate in 1941 to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1948.

I was fascinated by his brief stint in the military in World War II. Enlisting and getting a commission in the Navy, he wandered the West Coast and then ended up touring the Asia theater. Johnson actually flew a mission in a bomber in Indonesia. As I remarked recently, while I understand the events of World War II in Europe, I don't have a clear picture of the events in Southeast Asia.

About one half of the 500 page book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested 1948 Democratic primary for the Texas U.S. Senate seat against Coke R. Stevenson. Several chapters provide a fairly comprehensive biography of Stevenson. Stevenson is portrayed as an honorable statesman and reluctant office-seeker, in contrast to the venal and intensely ambitious Johnson.

Johnson's use of a helicopter to campaign in the primary is an interesting side note. The helicopter was a very new technology at the time and people flocked to see it.

With more than a million votes cast, Johnson won the 1948 election by 87 votes. The section covering the battle over the vote count is very good. The book covers the Box 13 scandal in astounding detail. The battle between Truman and Strom Thurmond for President played a role in ensuring that Johnson won the primary.

I enjoyed the book. I grade it an "A-." Like the first book, it paints a very unflattering picture of Lyndon Johnson.

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