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Robert A. Caro · 3 summaryAl writings of Theodore H White a noted political writer specializing in chronicling elections seem like sixth grade essays from those few literate flyovers capable of writing I don t want to give away too much except to say that this election proved a couple things 1 LBJ would go to any lengths to win an election 2 Without the brilliant legal mind of Abe Fortas and Johnson s balls of steel LBJ may have ended his days as an Austin sed car salesman 3 Johnson despite his proclivity to tell tall tales believed by no one was extremely concerned about his reputation and appearance and standing in every aspect of his lifeOnto the book s weakness Stevenson is cast as the hero in this tale and portrayed as a man of such moral probity and goodness that compared to Coke Albert Schweitzer would be a depraved serial killer Coke is the prototypical self made American man who rose from a poor family to establish a perilous delivery business as a teenager while studying on long hard nights The Blissmaker under a light held by an angel First he studied finance and moved from fording dangerous streams with wagon loads of much needed goods for remote country folk to working in a bank while reading law in the late evenings His main goal in life was to buy a ranch and spend his days working it while practicing a bit of law His assiduous study pays off as he passed the bar and apprenticednder a skilled and experienced attorney Coke s love of the US Constitution was so powerful that by comparison the great Supreme Court Justice John Marshall was a seditious traitor Coke realizes his dream buys his ranch marries the love of his life and begins ranching and lawyering not a real word and being a good citizen by spending his nights protecting his fellow ranchers from cattle rustlers He was a man with no political ambitions but is so respected by his fellow citizens that he is cajoled into running for various state offices leading Packet Tracer Network Simulator up to two terms as Texas governor He wasndefeated in 12 elections prior to facing LBJ and a few others in the democratic Senatorial primary He won the last gubernatorial election with a mere 85% of the vote After serving his two terms Coke retired to his ranch to dig post holes in the rocky soil of his ranchThis depiction of Coke as the exemplar of morality and goodness juxtaposed by the portrait of LBJ as a venal vote stealing sociopath diminished the book IMO though not enough for me to withdraw my five star rating It s diminishing because I think it fails to give an adeuate estimation of both menJohnson once ipped The very fact a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character Could politician have been substituted for newspaper reporter One of Caro s themes in his books seems to be that the very act of seeking power necessarily involves the power seeker to capitulate to malign forces and at times compromise his values should he have themCoke Stevenson was a man who had run for office twelve times in Texas and twice had held the highest elected office in the state He was a man with flaws and a keen political sensibility Caro fails to mention any of those flaws and thus the reader learns about a Coke who is almost too good to be human In critiues I ve read of the book several reviewers point out that Coke was known in Texas as Calculatin Coke and I m guessing if Caro had interviewed African Americans in various parts of Texas some of them might view Coke in ite opposite ways than the Coke presented to Vlad us in Means of Ascent Coke was a racist in other words as has been pointed out by Matt in his magnificent review This was also noted in the critiues I read of the book and one reviewer cited a directote from Coke during his reign as governor where a black man had been lynched and Coke was rged by a US Attorney to prosecute the white men suspected in the lynching Coke s response was along the lines that Some Negroes get what they deserve and he declined to have the lynching investigated Coke was also supported by the Dixiecrats in the election a far right group of politicos who ran racist Strom Thurmond for President in the 48 election Caro mentions this but downplays it and implies that Coke received their endorsement solely because the Dixiecrats perceived Coke as the lesser of the two evilsIt s also interesting that Johnson s wealthy political backer Herman Brown whom Johnson had helped make even richer described him as being in favor of improving the lives of black people Johnson did not vote this way but apparently he was open in admitting he favored better treatment of African Americans at a time when Texas had regular lynchings and maltreatment of someone due to skin color was simply the order of the day Further Johnson based on past journalistic accounts I have read had always been a champion of black civil rights but could not openly state this as it would have meant death for his political career Reports I have read indicate that Johnson when traveling around Texas would do seemingly innocuous things like casually approach a black hotel porter and ask How are things going down here for your people A colleague may have seen Johnson talking to the porter and assumed he was giving instructions for his bags Johnson sed surreptitious ways to sound out some oppressed minoritiesCaro
S Assiduous Research Allowsassiduous research allows to dig Couch World up Johnson scandals like his techniue ofsing local supporters to spread malicious rumors about Stevenson one being that Coke was a champion of big labor and a communist pawn who planned to repeal the Taft Hartley Act after being electedhttpsenwikipediaorgwikiTaft%E2Amazingly NO Jackie O uestionable campaign maneuvers are ever mentioned in Coke s camp Perhaps there were none but I wonder how much digging Caro did to find out It is rather hard to believe that Coke s racial views wouldn t have been widely known but Caro made no attempt to present this less than savory side of the man because to do so would have lessened the power of his good versus evil story lineIn sum this is an excellent book full of what readers have come to expect from Robert Caro Interesting asides that add richness and texture to his writing and clear detailed explanations of complex matters that include new insights and factual accounts that could only have been obtained through laborious research The book s account of the stolen election would likely bepheld in any court in the land as damning testimony Most historians are going to write accounts of a particular person or event and either consciously or inadvertently are going to interject their personal prejudices and opinions of that person or event In this respect Caro is no different from most writers of history and biography I recommend Means of Ascent as an important connecting link in the complicated life of Lyndon Baines Johnson a complicated man At the same time I d suggest the discerning reader conduct a bit of side research to investigate the political life of the noble and saintly Coke Stevenson What was I thinking I have read every word Caro has written but I had imagined I could skip this one because nothing really happened and I d already read the over 200o pages of the Johnson series But I had forgotten why I had been reading them in the first place It wasn t about plot or to find out what happened or didn t happen to Johnson It was to read Caro write Duh The man is the best writer I ve ever read and I have fully atoned for my error in believing that it was a good idea to skip a book In fact I was so parched for Caro that I read the introduction to this book 3 times just to relish the brilliance of the Caro that I read the introduction to this book 3 times just to relish the brilliance of the It is an Playing by the Rules (Portwood Brothers, utter delight to read about Johnson s corruption in this narrative It is not just about the man but it is about politics human nature and American history Bravo May he live to finish the series Means of Ascent The Years of Lyndon Johnson is the second volume in Robert Caro s series covering the life of Lyndon B Johnson Caro is a former investigative reporter and the author of two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies Master of the Senate the third volume in this series and The Power Broker about the life of Robert Moses Caro is currently working on the fifth and presumably final volume in his LBJ seriesPublished in 1990 Means of Ascent covers seven difficult years of LBJ s life from shortly after his 1941 loss in a special election for the US Senate while a congressman to his controversial 1948 Senate victory over former Texas governor Coke Stevenson This 412 page volume is the shortest in Caro s series but again demonstrates the author s tenacious research habits and willingness to dive deeply into a subjectCaro s writing style in this volume is strikingly similar to his prose of the first volume it is neither elegant nor flowery but is packed with intensity and a clever if slightlynwieldy bent Individual sentences often read as though they were authored by Charles Dickensbut with even punch The third sentence in this book for instance contains 124 words and than a dozen commas colons and semicolonsDespite being an integral part of a much larger series Means of Ascent is designed to be a standalone volume Caro repeats enough of the first volume s highlights in early chapters that a reader could begin the series here without missing important themes And in this book s final chapters Caro foreshadows where the next volumes will take LBJ and his insatiable thirst for powerVolume 2 begins in earnest with Johnson s brief service in World War II the subject of significant embellishment by the future president This is followed by LBJ s purchase of a Texas radio station which eventually proved no less contentious But the book s primary focus is LBJ s election to the US Senate in a fascinating and well told story of intrigue corruption and rural Texas politics The book could easily have been titled The Stolen Senate Election of 1948 Readers familiar with Caro will recognize the meticulously thorough research which Vibronic Processes in Inorganic Chemistry underpins this biography he seems to have interviewed everyone who knew LBJas well as everyone who knew someone who knew LBJ Also familiar hisse of captivating mini biographies to introduce important supporting charactersThe most important of these introductions is aimed at Coke Stevenson Johnson s primary opponent in his 1948 Senate bid who receives an entire chapter much like Sam Rayburn in the previous volume But there are others who also receive interesting if less extensive treatment such as George Parr and Frank HamerCaro also continuously provides the reader with enough context perspective and imagery that it is difficult to read this text and not imagine being at the scene of nearly every moment he describesBut this biography also possesses its share of blemishes It often resembles a skilled prosecutor s most zealous and Elephant Memories unrelenting case against LBJ s admittedly numerous and disturbing personality defects Where the first volume systematically develops a case against LBJ this volume feels like a blistering non stop critiue of nearly every aspect of his characterCaro often but not always provides convincing evidence to support his portrayal of LBJ but he freuently fails to include evidence that could soften the sharp edges of that portrait Oral testimony solicited decades after an event is regularlysed to condemn Johnson but I cannot remember a single instance of testimony being Descent into Chaos used in his defenseAnd in the process of highlighting the darkest threads of Johnson s character during his 1948 Senate bid Caro elevates Coke Stevenson to lofty heights which most Texas historians probably wouldn t recognize Every villain it seems reuires a hero And if Johnson is in the eyes of some this volume s controversial antagonist Stevenson is its strangely flawless luminaryOverall Means of Ascent is a commendable successor to The Path to Power though notite its eual Due to its relatively narrow scope it offers fewer piercing revelations about Johnson than the first volume but does an admirable job bridging two extremely conseuential periods in his life Most importantly however Means of Ascent leaves the reader deeply embedded in Johnson s life fully engrossed in Caro s series and eager to tackle the next volumeOverall rating 4 stars A platform he said in his dry way was like a Mother Hubbard. Lso of Robert Moses in The Power Broker carries Johnson through his service in World War II and the foundation of his long concealed fortune and the facts behind the myths he created about it But the explosive heart of the book is Caro's revelation of the true story of the fiercely contested 1948 senatorial election for forty years shrouded in. ,
Only 488 prior reviews of the second volume of Caro s LBJ bio The major details of this relatively slim book in comparison to the other 3 volumes have been hashed and rehashed I m hoping to craft an arresting and apposite summation worthy to stand beside the many great reviews preceding me Not sure I have the chops to do it but what the hellI ended p liking this book a bit even than Caro s first volume The Path to Power In this second volume Caro really seemed to hit his stride as a writer This book describes a period of forced iescence in Johnson s life his so called Wilderness Years and I have the attention span of a gnat so by rights this book should have supplanted my nightly Ambien as a soporific Instead due to Caro s magnificent writing and ability to craft a story line there were some nights this book defeated my sleeping pill and kept me riveted It is rud that many people especially celebrities do or say strange things while on Ambien so if I interject any inappropriate remarks please realize my review notes were scribbled at times in an Ambien haze when I was non compos mentisIn Means of Ascent Caro begins by rehashing a bit of the info he presented in volume I thus ensuring a smooth transition and providing a bit of background for contrarians who insist on reading books out of order The gist of the book can be summed The Icarus Girl up in a few paragraphs Johnson in a rare political blunder was outfoxed by his opponent in his 1941 US Senate campaign This was done by Johnson being confident of victory releasing his vote tally early on the eve of the election thus giving his opponent Texas governor W Lee Pappy O Daniel the opportunity to steal the election via payoffs to party bosses who controlled huge blocks of minority voters especially in South Texas an area with a huge Mexican American population Johnson was shamed that his opponent had stolen the election from him but he was still a US Congressman and had to campaign for that office Additionally the senate election in 1941 was to fill a vacant position and there would be another senate election in July of 1942 and Johnson was confident he could win this election and redeem himself This redemption was nixed however when President Roosevelt backed another candidate who had already been slotted for the senate seat in the 1942 election Despite his loss and stymied senate run LBJ continued to enjoy the special attention from President Roosevelt Johnson resumed an active social life in Washington and was a popular host at parties he would hold for friends and acuaintances One acuaintance future US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas was to play an important role both later in this book and throughout Johnson s life as a friendconsigliere LBJ s contact with the White House is finally kaput in 1945 after Roosevelt s death Former Senator Harry S Truman now President was a keen observer of men One would expect this since in early life he was a haberdasher a profession reuiring keen observation skills He easily sees through Johnson s persiflage and false bonhomie and Johnson s access to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is abruptly curtailedDuring Johnson s failed 1941 Senate campaign when it seemed likely that the US would be drawn into the war ensuing in Europe and other locales LBJ had made an adamant campaign promise that should his fellow Texans be called to serve he would be right there in the trenches fighting with them after vacating his Senate seat Johnson fulfills this promise after the outbreak of WW II Most of his brief stint inniform is spent touring bases on the US West coast He finally finagles a trip to Australia where he joins a B 26 bombing team on a bombing run to a Japanese air base at Lae on the island of New Guinea Johnson does see action as the plane he is riding in his hit and nable to complete the mission and returns to base being pursued by Japanese fighter planes Johnson s plane takes many hits and he reportedly keeps his composure while watching the firefight from a position behind the cockpitJohnson returns to Washington where this story is embellished with each retelling Interestingly Johnson lies even when knowing that those listening will know he is lying One thing critics of Caro have complained about is that Caro does not capture the true Johnson charm and charisma Apparently LBJ had such a command over an audience and such a storytelling talent that listeners enjoyed even his prevarications To those that want a depiction of LBJ as seen by a writer WHO WORKED FOR HIM I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE NOVELLA worked for him I highly recommend the novella by former Johnson staffer Billy Lee Brammer The Gay Place a book of 3 novellas with The Flea Circus describing life working for LBJ Brammer no stranger to aberrant behavior does a great job of capturing LBJ s manic mix of charm and intimidation Here s a ote from The Gay Place describing a young aide s worldview after some experience enduring Johnson named in the book as Arthur Goddamn Fenstemaker a nod to his
favorite curse word and a last name the German for windowcurse word and a last name the German for window an allusion to a man skilled at framing life to suit his needsJay had the ality characteristic of those constantly exposed to Arthur Fenstemaker of having peered steadily at the scene of an accident experienced a revelation seen death and redemption God and Lucifer staring back and somehow incredibly survivedBrammer captures the life altering impact of working for Johnson in a way that a mere factual historical account could never do During the next six years Johnson s rising Lone Star loses its luster as he serves out his remaining terms in congress in a desultory fashion introducing no significant legislation He remained as cagey as ever never voting for a losing bill during his many years in congressJohnson does not come to life again supposedly ntil the infamous 1948 election for the US Senate in Texas against former Texas governor and full time saint Coke Stevenson This election with Stevenson the heavy favorite in the primary is where the main action in the book takes place Caro proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Johnson stole the election which he won by 87 votes through a combination of tireless campaigning a huge campaign fund from his millionaire oilconstruction backers and extreme political chicanery involving egregious vote fraud and ballot box stuffingSome of my thoughtsobservations about the book Caro is justly known for his thorough and meticulous research Some would say it reaches the point of obsessiveness a charge perhaps justified given that the Johnson bio was originally planned as a trilogy and now is a shelf of 3 very thick volumes and one mid sized volume Means of Ascent with the fifth and final tome expected should Caro not shuffle off this mortal coil before completion Caro has a gift for writing interesting digressions that actually serve a purpose of helping to tell his story That said I feel like there was MUCH left Marie Antoinette unsaid here about thisiet period of Johnson s lifeJohnson was a force majeure People like him really do not have The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics uiet periodsntil they are on their deathbeds and comatose Yes LBJ may have been in a political wilderness where he had lost his influence with President Roosevelt as FDR was busy with the war and LBJ was also on the outs with his old mentor Sam Rayburn Likewise due to political changes his power to pull strings and grant favors to his fellow congressmen had wanedCaro is fascinated by power and by people like Robert Moses and LBJ who are masters at obtaining it and sing it to sway other people both the powerful and the lumpen proletariat to embrace their desires It is thus no coincidence that Means of Ascent has been Caro s shortest work in the Johnson tetralogy It was a period s shortest work in the Johnson tetralogy It was a period Johnson had the least political power of his entire career I suspect though that while Caro views this power vacuum period as a time of hamstrung desires LBJ the force of nature ndoubtedly was living as he Beyond Band of Brothers usually hadsing his tremendous personal charisma to work others to his will I suspect this was a time that Johnson had many gratuitous sexual affairs and found ways to complicate his life outside the political sphere I am also guessing his eye was always on the prize of the 1948 election and that much scheming and planning was already being implemented behind the scenes in preparation what would be Johnson s real war In fairness to Caro I can see why little of this 1942 1948 period is chronicled Johnson had seemingly lost his power and influence and I m having trouble envisioning a Caro Lady Bird interview where Lady Bird casually mentions Well Lyndon was pretty down during this time The only thing that kept him going was that he was screwing every young vixen he could get his huge hands on What Caro does dredge The Water Of Life up about this period is that this is the time Johnson turned his energies toward getting rich a goal he valued nearly as much as his ambition to be President To begin what would become a modest media empire Johnson purchased an Austin radio station and put it in Lady Bird s name and she ran the day to day affairs Johnson s media empire was sold for 9 million US dollars before his death a figure euivalent to about 54 million US in 2018 Meanwhile Johnson worked behind the scenes to move the station to a desirable spot on the dial and increase its broadcasting range to cover a much wider area of Texas than its low wattage had previously allowed He also maneuvered to get the station affiliated with CBS no small feat The stationnder Lady Bird s efficient management began making large profits due to greatly increased advertising revenue profits that would lead to other media acuisitions and serious wealth especially with the advent of television in the 1950 sI was delighted that Caro devoted a chapter of this book to Lady Bird She is an oft overlooked figure in LBJ s larger than life persona She tended to stay in the shadows but in reality she was perhaps Lyndon s biggest champion and most perspicacious advisor I realized this years ago reading the Michael Beshchloss trilogy of LBJ s secret White House tapes I had always thought of Lady Bird as a demure loving but The Year of Living Biblically uninvolved spouse Beshchloss s books reveal a Lady Bird with a keennderstanding of her husband s political life and LBJ often consulted her for advice on how to handle different people and situations It is obvious from reading the transcriptions of the tapes that Lady Bird was a person of high intelligence who played a crucial role in her husband s life as advisor partner and confidant Caro interviews several suitors from her youth and one of them notes that Lady Bird was a person who had always planned to marry a man with power a man going places She wasn t going to settle for a man of low ambitions Though Caro often describes Lady Bird as a sort of maid in waiting to a bossy demanding LBJ his chapter on Lady Bird shows that far from being a mere doormat she was a brilliant determined person who aided and championed Johnson s rise to power and was a valuable supportive ally through all of Johnson s good and bad timesThe controversial stolen senate election of 1948 is the book s predominant focus Caro has done some stealthy snooping to get the definitive truth about this suspect election This is both the book s strongest and weakest section IMHOIt is strong because it reads as if one is watching a great drama with a malevolent force Johnson sing modern campaign techniues he visits Texas towns by helicopter a stunning spectacle in 1948 and ses statewide media especially radio to campaign Coke Stevenson his opponent and front runner simply drives from town to town talking to small groups of voters the old fashioned wayThe story of how the election is stolen makes the Bush Gore fiasco of 2000 look like a grammar school election in some podunk town in flyover country For those of you who are foreigners or nfamiliar with American vernacular flyover country is anywhere in the United States that is not metropolitan New York City Los Angeles maybe San Francisco and Boston and DC and Seattle Miami and Las Vegas are excluded as flyover rabble Most flyover people wear red caps voted for Trump and are fortunately nable to readJohnson with the aid of his rich backers steals the election in a conclusion so powerful it makes the politic. Robert A Caro's life of Lyndon Johnson which began with the greatly acclaimed The Path to Power also winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award continues one of the richest most intensive and most revealing examinations ever ndertaken of an American President In Means of Ascent the Pulitzer Prize winning biographerhistorian chronicler Dress it covered everything and touched nothing Platforms and campaign promises were meaningless politicians issued them or made them and then as soon as they were elected forgot them Robert A Caro Means of Ascent oting Coke Stephenson This was a different book from Caro s Vol 1 of the Years of Lyndon Johnson The Path to Power The Path to Power detailed the rise and early history of LBJ It set the table It showed LBJ as a boy showed the Hill Country It described his father so much of LBJ can be explained by his complicated relationship to his father It moved through LBJ s college career early political connections and how all the attributes that made LBJ who he was were formed It ended as LBJ lost the 1941 election for the US Senate to W Lee O Daniel He basically had the election out stolen from him He lost focus too soon This book starts off with LBJ s brief stint in the Navy after Pearl Harbor his attempt and failure to move Scary Stories 3 up in DC with FDR with Truman in congress with the Party He was stuck So it moves on to LBJsing the power he had to buy a radio station in Austin One that would later be the source of his and Lady Bird s enormous wealth it is amazing how many of our politicos enter DC rich and leave The Penguin Atlas of Endangered Species uite rich The last half of the book details the 1948 Senate election when LBJ ran against Coke Stephenson for the Texas Senate seat At this point it becomes almost a dual biography One of opposites Coke was old school honest thoughtful popular low key In many ways he resembled LBJ s father Caro never said it directly but in many ways he didn t need to LBJ s character was formed as a reaction to his father snwillingness to get into the gutter LBJ was all ends He would The Bartender use whatever MEANS were reuired And in 1948 that meant MONEY and corruption Anyway it was hard to decide to give this 5 stars It wasn t as impressive a book in some ways as Vol 1 However it was beautiful I loved reading about Coke Coke was a good counterbalance to LBJ s style But it is hard too not to admire LBJ s work ethic and his ability to take enormous risks and sometimes his brilliant ability to read andse peopleThe book is also a lesson on how we are also suckered by the exact things we think we want badly I m pretty sure the men who boughtbrought LBJ into office certainly loved some of the things he did but I m not sure they would ever have thought their Man would eventually pass the Civil Rights Act and much of his great society agenda Eventually many would come to regret their man LBJ was never anyone s man In reading Caro s second volume of the LBJ biography series I was completely blown away While some call it the lesser exciting of Caro s first two volumes depicting LBJ s Texas life and early congressional years I felt that it helped shape the image of the president I knew from the history books Means of Ascent is by no means a shrinking violet in the literary world though its action does perhaps pale when placed against its older sibling Path to Power Still Caro brings to life those years that bridge the lead Tono Bungay up to his arrival on Capitol Hill and his arrival in the Senate where he made a national name for himself From falsified war stories to his campaign and complete robbery of the 1948 Democratic primary for the US Senate And here I thought Dewey wins was the 1 story in the 1948 election cycleCaro pulls no punches appearing to side only with the truth and that which the record reflects rather than cozyingp to the famed LBJ We learn a great deal about the chain smoking ill tempered LBJ as the story progresses from his arrival on the scene as a congressman and his failed attempt at the Senate in 1941 The reader will than likely not leave this volume with a strong feeling that the hometown son will vanuish his foesWhat stunned me most in this volume perhaps in the entire biography Magical Sweet Mermaid up to this point is the story read saga surrounding the 1948 US Senate election and LBJ s attempts to and success at steal the Democratic primary by any means necessary Caro makes this election campaign the poignant part of this volume spending a great deal of time on the issue and looking at it both in depth and from a variety of perspectives Not being American I was not as aware of his moment is history as some may be and it seems the US media really pickedp on it after LBJ s death in 1973 but the 87 votes that changed the world really is a key event in both the progression of this biography and the life of LBJ For as it is said many times had he lost and actually been declared the loser his limelight would surely have burnt out and left others to fill the void It was with this victory that his way to greatness and infamy on the national political scene was pavedI cannot express how impressed I am with this book and the progression of this series As I enter the third book longest and probably the most powerful as we examine LBJ in the Senate I cannot wait to see what Caro reveals and what history has to say about this powerful man who will do anything to get what he wants Pamela Paul editor of the NYT Book review gave me the idea to completely read The Years of Lyndon Johnson I am reading them slowly mostly at night or in the morning after night shift before I go to sleep This shortish volume took 4 months and I have the next one ready to go I am loving them not only for the deep dive into the life of this morally challenged small town Texan who became President but for the explanation of the machinations that guided mid 20th century politics Robert Caro is an amazing researcher and writer who makes you want to read his detailed lengthy volumes even knowing how they end To say that Means of Ascent does not reach the towering heights of Caro s first volume of his Years of Lyndon Johnson is no slight Path to Power is one of the greatest feats of biography I ve ever read The only reason Means falls short is because it happens to dwell on LBJ s wilderness years This was the time between his first failed senate run during a special election and his second successful senate run which culminated in the famed 87 votes that changed America During these 7 years LBJ the ambitious over weaning butt kissing glad handing lying cajoling cheating adulterous power seeker This is the second volume of four thus far in Robert Caro s magisterial biography of former president Lyndon B Johnson It treats the period from mid 1941 when Johnson lost a special election for the US Senate through 1948 when Johnson won election to the Senate in a hotly contested and heatedly disputed primary election Johnson was crushed by his loss in 1941 and believed that the election had been stolen from him by an opponent who was clever than he He vowed it would never happen again Months after that defeat Johnson was still a sitting congressmen when World War II began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor In campaigning for the Senate in 1941 Johnson had promised Texas voters that if he voted to send their sons to war he would leave the Senate and be out in the trenches with them Once war was declared Johnson thus found himself in a bind because he had absolutely no interest in being in the trenches or anywhere else other than in the Congress As means of finessing the situation Johnson reuested a leave from the Congress He had earlier enrolled as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve and now left the Congress to go on active duty in California and elsewhere far from any fightingJohnson knew though that his political career would be imperiled if he did not see some action especially in light of the promise he had made Thus he The Choice ultimately arranged to get to Australia and then to go on a single combat mission as an observer not as a combatant flying on a B 26 bomber The bomb I know perfectly well how Lyndon Johnson s life turned out yet I wasrgently turning the pages as his 1948 run for the Senate played out its sordid finish in this second volume of Robert Caro s monumental biography A biography researched and documented yes but a narrative stranger than fiction Means of Ascent covers seven years of Johnson s life comprising his brief and greatly aggrandized career in the Navy in World War II and the beginnings of his considerable fortune through ownership of Austin radio station KTBC which was held in his wife s name but closely Austin radio station KTBC which was held in his wife s name but closely by Johnson and benefitting from his Elementary Treatise in Herbology useful contacts in and out of governmentBut the second half of the book is the dramatic heart of this book which is considerably shorter than his other volumes just over 400 pages Caro wisely chose to end the installment with Johnson s accession to the Senate and future volumes will turn to his powerful Washington careerBut how he got there The mendacity of the 1948 Johnson effort is the story of vote buying ballot box stuffing and courtroom theatrics But the campaign was also a study in electioneering styles LBJ needled and goaded but his opponent the popular former governor Coke Stevenson never revealed a platform nor responded to the obvious lies LBJ was telling He simply said he d keep taxes down andphold the constitution he refused to dignify the charges Johnson was bringing by responding to them It was a mistake and his old fashioned campaign style allowed Johnson to make dramatic inroads into Stevenson s considerable lead with votersThe final gap in votes was covered by the people who controlled the voting in the valley south of San Antonio The Mexican American residents in Duval and Jim Wells counties rarely cast their own votes but this time their votes were cast overwhelmingly for Johnson and reported six days after the election The resulting challenges and courtroom dramas finally put Johnson into his Senate seat with a margin of 87 votes The infamous ballot box 13 from Jim Wells County went missing and poll results went missingCaro s preface to Means of Ascent makes reference to the extraordinary civil rights triumphs of the 1960s surely to acknowledge what many people believe to be Johnson s most important legacy But that is in the future and how Johnson achieved his toehold is a story for the ages Caro the historian digs and nearths then Caro the storyteller grabs the reader and won t let go The second volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson Tells The Story Of the story of s rise from a mere Congressman one with little hope for significant advancement to his nlikely election to the US Senate The majority of the pages describe Johnson s relentless ruthless expensive and dishonest campaign against former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson for the 1948 Democratic nomination which Johnson officially but far from legitimately won by 87 votesTexas at the time was a one party state with the one party being the Democratic party so in statewide races the winner of the Democratic party nomination was all but guaranteed to win the general election exactly like my home state except with the single party being the Republican party When the popular honest and honorable Governor Stevenson entered the race for the open Texas Senate seat it was presumed by most all Texans that he would be the nominee and the next Senator from TexasBut Lyndon Johnson a man to whom winning meant everything had other ideas With a near March Monthly Idea Book unlimited amount of campaign money at his disposal and connections to some of the most powerful and often corrupt local leaders Johnson was able to very literally steal the election for himselfThe story of how this was done is absolutely fascinating The ability of Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Caro to describe in such amazing detail the political maneuverings and the interwoven lives and activities of all the players kept me enthralled from start to finish The Years of Lyndon Johnson is so much than just a biography As the author explains From the first time I thought of becoming a biographer I never conceived of my biographies as merely telling the lives of famous men but rather as a means of illuminating their times and the great forces that shaped their times particularly political power since in a democracy political power has so great a role in shaping the lives of the citizens of that democracy What I set out to try to do was to examine the way power works in America in the middle of the twentieth century Mr Caro fully achieved his goal with this book. Rumor which Johnson had to win or face certain political death and which he did win by the 87 votes that changed history Caro makess witness to a momentous turning point in American politics the tragic last stand of the old politics versus the new the politics of issue versus the politics of image mass manipulation money and electronic dazz.
Robert A. Caro
Robert A. Caro