Monday, April 01, 2019

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro

My book for March was The Passage of Power by Robert Caro. Drew gave me this book for Christmas in 2017. It is volume four of a planned five volume 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 of 2018, the second volume [Means of Ascent] in May of 2018 and the third volume [Master of the Senate] in December of 2018. This book fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents.

The Passage of Power was selected as one of Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (non-fiction #2) and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012). Additionally, the book won a number of awards, including: the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography); the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography); the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013); the American History Book Prize (2013); and, the Biographers International Organization's Plutarch Award (2013).

In this fourth volume, Caro covers Johnson's life from 1958 to 1964. The book is really broken into four parts. First, Johnson's sleuth attempt to win the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination at convention. He didn't want to campaign openly and compete in the primaries.

Second, Johnson's selection as John F. Kennedy's Vice President and his subsequent three years as the Vice President. Johnson was never really a key part of the Kennedy administration.

Third, the events surrounding JFK's assassination in Dallas in November of 1963 are followed from Johnson's perspective. I found this section of the book particularly powerful. My notes about where I was when I heard Kennedy was shot are here.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. Nevertheless, the assassination of South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem, numerous attempts by the CIA to kill Castro and Robert Kennedy's pursuit of the mafia make me wonder who was really behind JFK's assassination.

Finally, the book covers the Johnson's assumption of the presidency and his significant accomplishments in the months after Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson was able to push through a tax cut bill and the 1964 Civil Rights Acts in his first six months.

Like the other books, Caro paints a broad picture. In particular, in this book, there is a lot of background on Robert Kennedy and Harry Byrd. Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had a long history of mutual dislike. The book also paints a picture of Robert Kennedy as a very angry and combative individual. [Note to self], I need to find a Robert Kennedy biography.

I enjoyed all four of Caro's books. It has been a project. I have read more than 2,100 pages about Lyndon Johnson in the last fifteen months. I am looking forward to the next book. I saw a note saying that it is likely to be a couple of a years before the next book is completed.

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