The Years of Lyndon Johnson
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Air Force One, the President’s plane, is divided, behind the crew’s cockpit, into three compartments. In the first of them, just behind the cockpit, women sat weeping and Secret Service agents were trying to hold back tears (“You’ve heard of strong men crying; well, we had it there that day,” recalls a reporter) as the pilot lifted the big jet off the Dallas runway in a climb so steep that to a man standing on the ground it seemed “almost vertical,” leveled off for a few minutes, and then, warned that there were tornadoes between him and Washington, put the plane into another climb to get above them. In the rear compartment the widow, her suit stained with blood, was sitting next to the coffin of the dead President. And in the center compartment was the new President.
Lyndon Johnson hadn’t been aboard Air Force One on the trip down to Texas. He had long since given up asking John F. Kennedy if he could accompany him on the presidential plane when they were flying to the same destination (“You don’t mean to say that Mr. Johnson is again insisting on riding with me?” Kennedy had once asked his secretary in an exasperated tone), as he had given up on all his attempts to obtain some measure of recognition, or at least dignity, as Vice President. Once, as Senate Majority Leader, he had been a mighty figure—“the second most powerful man in the country”—but that seemed a long time ago now. Although initially he had been favored to win the Democratic nomination for President, he had been outmaneuvered by the younger man, and, having accepted the vice presidency, had, in that post, become not just powerless but a figure of ridicule. The gibe (“Whatever became of Lyndon Johnson?”) that had started over Georgetown dinner tables was now in headlines over articles about his predicament. He himself was worried about whether or not he would be retained on the 1964 Democratic ticket, and was convinced that whether he was or not, his dreams of becoming President one day were over. He had advised more than one aide whom he would have wanted with him were he to run for or become President to leave his staff. “My future is behind me,” he told one member of his staff. “Go,” he said to another. “I’m finished.” But he was on Air Force One now.
In part, this book is the story of the five years— from late 1958, when Johnson began campaigning for the presidency, to November 22, 1963—before that flight from Dallas to Washington: a story of how a man who all his life had yearned for the presidency failed in his great chance to attain that goal, of how, to a large degree because of aspects of his character that crippled him in his efforts to attain it, he allowed the prize for which he had planned and schemed and worked (worked with a tirelessness that made an ally say “I never thought it was possible for anyone to work that hard”) to be snatched away from him. It is a story of not only failure but humiliation, of how, after he had lost the presidential nomination in 1960, he had taken a gamble— giving up the Senate leadership to accept the vice presidential nomination— because he felt that was his only remaining chance to achieve his goal, and of what followed after he became Vice President.
Adapted from the Book:
THE PASSAGE OF POWER by Robert A. Caro
Copyright © 2012 by Robert A. Caro, Inc.
Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All his life, Lyndon B. Johnson had yearned for the presidency. Failing to achieve that goal during the 1960 campaign after relinquishing his vaunted role as Senate Majority Leader, Johnson accepted the Vice Presidential nomination—and found himself relegated to a relatively powerless position in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. With John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Johnson suddenly found himself thrust into the seat of power, an ascent to the presidency that came amidst the most traumatic moment in American political history.
With The Passage of Power, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Robert A. Caro has written the fourth volume in his monumental biography, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, which began with the The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, and Master of the Senate. Here, he follows Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career as he takes us from late 1958, when Johnson began campaigning for the presidency, to the assassination and its aftermath. It is a story, in the author’s words, “about what being without power can mean in a city in which power is the name of the game.”
Caro portrays Johnson’s volatile relationship with John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy during the fight they waged for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. He offers us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind the choice of vice president, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket—a precursor to the savage animosity between the two men during and after the Kennedy presidency. And, with a singular understanding of Johnson’s heart and mind, he describes the frustrations Johnson endured through his unhappy tenure as vice president.
For the first time, Caro lets us see the Kennedy assassination through Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor. And we see how, within weeks—grasping the reins of the office with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that had seemed hopelessly logjammed, and seized on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how Johnson’s inherent political genius now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own, and to fulfill the highest purpose of the office. It is Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and his accomplishment were overshadowed and ultimately eroded by the trap of Vietnam.
A publishing event of the highest order, The Passage of Power is a tour de force of political biography that tells a mesmerizing story as it reveals the immense potential a president has to transform a nation.
Hardcover Book : 736 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc./Random House ( May 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-569126
Product Dimensions: 6.25 x 9.25 x 1.15inches
Product Weight: 46.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
LBJ is not exactly considered one of our best presidents. In fact, historians rank him as one of our worst presidents. His successes and achievements as president are typically over shadowed by the disaster of the Vietnam War. But as Robert Caro points out in this excellent book, LBJ deserves credit for the good things he did, which have in the past been for the most part ignored. The Passage of Power not only highlights Johnson's frustration and agony as Vice President, but also his success in leadership following Kennedy's assination and his political success of getting Kennedy's legislation through Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the appointment of the Warren Commission. These achievements rank as lessons in leadership and Caro has written a masterful book, detailing the highs and lows of Johnson's experience. The incredible research and work that went into this volume is amazing. It is well documented and well balanced in its presentation. I'm sure the next volume in this series won't be nearly as inspiring as this fourth volume, but for now we can appreciate LBJ for the initial success he had as president and the quality leadership he provided to this nation at a time when we needed it the most. We owe him our thanks and gratitude for that, and we owe Caro our appreciation for presenting it to us in such an excellent book.
Reviewer: Mike L
Read the first 3 and this is so up to par. Can't stand LBJ, but Caro is magnificent at political history, he makes it so facinating. Will be hoping #5 is not such a long wait.
Reviewer: susan s
Caro has done it again! I have read the earlier books and am eagerly awaiting the finale. Kevin is 100% correct "one of the true masterpieces of modern political biography".
The research is simply amazing but does not overwhelm the story. Caro also takes the time to flesh out many of the important people Johnson interacted with. He almost does mini bios on people like Sam Rayburn, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy ect.
Very enjoyable and interesting read, found it hard to put down sometimes.
Having read the three earlier books in this series, "The Years of Lyndon Johnson," I am fascinated by this book. Caro is writing one of the true masterpieces of modern political biography. He writes with the flair of a novelist and is an excellent researcher. The fascinating thing is that Caro tells how Johnson acquired power, reached a zenith of sorts as majority leader in the US Senate, gave that up to become Kennedy's vice president, and then got the brass ring upon JFK's death -- only to see his power slip from his hands because of Vietnam. An amazing, enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Kevin L
I got my copy about four days ago. Have read half the book and I find it easy to read. Caro has always been a very good writer. I love his works. The Passage of Power has got to be his best work. I would recommend this book to anyone who asks about it.
Reviewer: richard c