46. The Path to Power

Two of the men lying on the blanket that day in 1949 were rich.

The Path to Power, Robert Caro

In 1998, when I was a junior at Dartmouth, I won a prize for writing the best history paper on a European topic.  The award was a gift certificate to the bookstore, and one of the books I bought was Robert Caro’s The Path to Power, the first volume in his (projected, cause it’s still not done) four volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson.  Twenty years later, I finally read it, which is pitiful, but at least I’m faster than Caro!

The book, which covers the early years of Johnson’s life through his defeat in the 1941 Senate Race, is amazing.  It is so well written and compelling that I found myself racing to find out what would happen - and I KNOW what happened.  The only thing that is keeping me from immediately picking up volume 2 is that I’m not emotionally prepared to spend another month of my life with Johnson.  I’d gleefully submerse myself in more Caro, but my god, Johnson was a son of a bitch.  He just really sucked, and the fact that this book somehow makes you care about him - even root for him, is a credit to the story Caro tells.  Johnson was amazing - a nonstop worker, a political genius, and also a real asshole with no personal political values of his own.  He wanted to be in charge and would do just about anything to get there.  The fact that he managed to do some good along the way seems basically incidental.

The absolute best part of the book, to me, is the way that Caro shows us how Johnson’s growing up in the hill country of Texas absolutely shaped who he was and what he became.  He describes what life was like in that hardscrabble country in such a terrible (because it was backbreaking and terrible) and evocative way.  Caro has a magic way of marshalling facts into a narrative that reads absolutely true - but also reads.  He is that rare scholar who is also a story-teller, and once I can gird myself to spend more time with Johnson I will absolutely be reading the next book in the Years of Lyndon Johnson series.  I may not love Lyndon, but I adore Caro. 

The American President Project 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017