The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro

77%

50 Critic Reviews

The author has written his best installment in his biographical series.
-LA Times

Synopsis

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE, THE MARK LYNTON HISTORY PRIZE, THE AMERICAN HISTORY BOOK PRIZE

NAMED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Economist * Time * Newsweek * Foreign Policy * Business Week * The Week * The Christian Science Monitor *Newsday

By the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker.

Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece.”
 
The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.

By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket. With the consummate skill of a master storyteller, he exposes the savage animosity between Johnson and Kennedy’s younger brother, portraying one of America’s great political feuds. Yet Robert Kennedy’s overt contempt for Johnson was only part of the burden of humiliation and isolation he bore as Vice President. With a singular understanding of Johnson’s heart and mind, Caro describes what it was like for this mighty politician to find himself altogether powerless in a world in which power is the crucial commodity. 

For the first time, in Caro’s breathtakingly vivid narrative, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks—grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own. This was without doubt Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam.

In its exploration of this pivotal period in Johnson’s life—and in the life of the nation—The Passage of Power is not only the story of how he surmounted unprecedented obstacles in order to fulfill the highest purpose of the presidency but is, as well, a revelation of both the pragmatic potential in the presidency and what can be accomplished when the chief executive has the vision and determination to move beyond the pragmatic and initiate programs designed to transform a nation. It is an epic story told with a depth of detail possible only through the peerless research that forms the foundation of Robert Caro’s work, confirming Nicholas von Hoffman’s verdict that “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”




From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Robert A. Caro

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For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, has three times won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and for Best Biography of the Year, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist." In 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. Caro's first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, everywhere acclaimed as a modern classic, was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Time magazine chose it as one of the hundred top nonfiction books of all time. It is, according to David Halberstam, "Surely the greatest book ever written about a city." And The New York Times Book Review said: "In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort." The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as "proof that we live in a great age of biography...[a book] of radiant excellence...Caro's evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson's unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are-let it be said flat out-at the summit of American historical writing." Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, "brilliant. No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born." The London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as "a masterpiece...Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age." The Passage of Power, volume four, has been called "Shakespearean ... A breathtakingly dramatic story [told] with consummate artistry and ardor" (The New York Times) and "as absorbing as a political thriller ...By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, Caro has forever changed the way we think about, and read, American history" (NPR). On the cover of The New York Times Book Review, President Bill Clinton praised it as "Brilliant...Important...Remarkable. With this fascinating and meticulous account Robert Caro has once again done America a great service." "Caro has a unique place among American political biographers," The Boston Globe said.. "He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured." And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: "Caro has changed the art of political biography." Born and raised in New York City, Caro graduated from Princeton University, was later a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, and worked for six years as an investigative reporter for Newsday. He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, the historian and writer.
 
Published May 1, 2012 by Vintage. 736 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Passage of Power
All: 50 | Positive: 39 | Negative: 11

Kirkus

Excellent
Apr 01 2012

As in the earlier volumes, Caro...combines a compelling narrative and insightful authorial judgments into a lengthy volume that will thrill those who care about American politics, the foundations of power, or both.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Chris McGreal on Jun 09 2012

In his decades of exploration, Caro has all but gone broke, uprooted his wife Ina from New York to live for years in the vast, isolated Texas Hill Country...The pay-off has been four magnificent volumes...

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Mar 26 2012

Caro’s ugly, tormented, heroic Johnson makes an apt embodiment of an America struggling toward epochal change, one with a fascinating resonance in our era of gridlocked government and paralyzed leadership.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Bill Clinton on May 02 2012

L.B.J. got to me, and after all these years, he still does. With this fascinating and meticulous account of how and why he did it, Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Apr 29 2012

It’s a breathtakingly dramatic story about a pivotal moment in United States history...

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Wall Street Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Robert Draper on Apr 27 2012

This is LBJ's world of brutal realpolitik, and Robert Caro welcomes us in: hardly a gay place but, like the best of thrillers, a many-shaded one.

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Book Reporter

Excellent
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on May 25 2012

Describing these books as simply a biography of Lyndon Johnson is inadequate. To read them is to read about America...

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NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Michael Schaub on May 02 2012

By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, he's forever changed the way we think, and read, American history.

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LA Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Wendy Smith on May 06 2012

The author has written his best installment in his biographical series.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Steve Weinberg on Apr 28 2012

"The Passage of Power" is the fourth volume of Robert Caro's ambitious multi-volume biography of LBJ, addressing Johnson's rise to the vice presidency but frustrating drop in power.

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Washington Times

Below average
Reviewed by Muriel Dobbin on May 15 2012

Mr. Caro’s assessment of Johnson’s life and times has varied considerably in the course of the four volumes he has compiled on the controversial Texan.

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The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by David Greenberg on May 01 2012

The LBJ that Caro gives us is not an inaccurate portrait, but it’s certainly a subjective one — an idiosyncratic expression of Caro’s own sensibility.

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Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Andrew Cohen on May 11 2012

Like many biographies today, this one is too long, with too many minor tributaries swelled with the arcana that other historians – if not Caro himself – have already visited.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Darren Frannich on Apr 27 2012

Passage is an essential document of a turning point in American history. It's also an incisive portrait of one great, terrible, fascinating man suddenly given the chance to reinvent the country in his image.

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The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Andrew Roberts on Jul 16 2012

...a true story of huge personalities, bloody assassinations, loves, hatreds and betrayals (and the Kennedy family) that renders it by turns gripping, sensational and immensely depressing.

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Christian Science Monitor

Above average
Reviewed by Erik Spansberg on Jun 26 2012

In The Passage of Power, his fourth installment of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” Robert A. Caro concentrates on the years 1958 through 1964, an era when Johnson endured a roller-coaster existence of political triumphs and defeats.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Bill Ott on Apr 15 2012

...its focus on a larger-than-life, flawed but fascinating individual—the kind of character who drives epic fiction—should extend its reach much, much further. Unquestionably, one of the truly big books of the year.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by William Howell on May 13 2012

This slice of American history is well known. But with Caro's narration, it burns anew.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Walter Stahr

There are passages in this book that, once read, will never leave the reader...It is for passages such as this that one reads biography and why one should read this great book.

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The Seattle Times

Good
Reviewed by David Shribman on May 13 2012

Because Caro is a student of power and his subject an accumulator of power, the way power flowed to the White House in the first days of Johnson's presidency is described in meticulous, almost loving, detail.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Jordan Smith on May 13 2012

Making ordinary politics and policymaking riveting and revealing is what makes Caro a genius.

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Open Letters Monthly

Below average
Reviewed by Greg Waldmann on Aug 05 2012

Caro brings a few rare qualities to the art of biography, and one of them is a meticulousness bordering on pathology...So the series inches forward like defrosting molasses.

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Slate

Below average
Reviewed by Fred Kaplan on May 31 2012

...when it came to the defining episode of JFK’s presidency...Caro left many pages—whole documents—unturned, unread, unopened. Either that, or...he chopped and twisted the record to make it fit his narrative.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Steve Inskeep on May 03 2012

...Caro’s meticulous process delivers powerful results. A onetime newspaper reporter, he abandoned that deadline-oriented mind-set long ago. In a world of snap judgments and ephemeral facts, he makes exceptional use of the commodity that modern journalists have the least of: time.

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The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by David Greenberg on May 01 2012

Caro strives for the epic. He will make a book, or chapter, or anecdote as long as it has to be to achieve his desired effect — elongating even a single sentence, if necessary, and then stitching it together with a passel of colons, semicolons and dashes, as if scooped by the handful from his handyman’s belt.

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Tampa Bay Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Apr 29 2012

"Magisterial" is a faint description of these deeply researched, beautifully written, always insightful works.

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Independent.ie

Above average
Reviewed by Sean Farrell on Dec 02 2012

...is above all the story of the relationship between Johnson and the Kennedys...A superb, standalone study.

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Independent.ie

Good
Reviewed by Sean Farrell on Jul 14 2012

Caro describes this as his finest hour. Bobby's assessment of him was "formidable but flawed, powerful but dangerous"...A superb, standalone study.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by James M. Perry on Apr 29 2012

The struggle to pass the civil rights bill was epic, and LBJ probably was the only man who could have managed it. No one who reads Mr. Caro's stirring account will ever question again Lyndon Johnson's commitment to that cause.

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Salon

Below average
Reviewed by Erik Nelson on May 07 2012

I feel I’ve just read the same book twice. “The Passage to Power” breaks down to four books, one worth reading.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Excellent
Reviewed by Paul Sheehan on Jun 23 2012

The virtuosity of the narrative is driven by the depth and breadth of Caro's research, which gives him a command of detail, and great detail is the essence of great writing.

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Newsday

Excellent
Reviewed by Peter Gianotti on Apr 26 2012

The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a compact library: brilliant biography, gripping history, searing political drama and an incomparable study of power.

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The Seattle Times

Excellent
Reviewed by David Shribman on May 13 2012

This book shows the mastery of Johnson in politics, and also the mastery of Caro in biography.

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New Statesman

Good
Reviewed by Andrew Adonis on Jun 27 2012

This fourth volume of Robert A Caro’s brilliant biography of Johnson runs to over 700 pages covering just four years: the 1960 election, LBJ’s vice-presidency and the initial three months of his presidency.

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The New York Review of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Garry Wills on May 24 2012

Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Johnson...was originally conceived and has been largely executed as a study of power. But this volume has been overtaken by a more pressing theme. It is a study in hate.

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The Age

Excellent
Reviewed by Paul Sheehan on Jun 23 2012

The Passage of Power has the same locomotive momentum of the earlier books. The virtuosity of the narrative is driven by Caro's depth and breadth of research, which gives him a command of detail, and great detail is the essence of great writing.

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Military.com

Below average
Reviewed by Dan Deluca on Apr 30 2012

...Caro exposes his chief flaw as a storyteller: A tendency to pound home his thorough research with unrelenting emphasis...by the time Caro was done delineating JFK's pain, I felt my own back start to spasm.

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Willamette Week

Above average
Reviewed by Matt Buckingham on May 02 2012

Caro laps the sentence back and forth, repeating the words “not only” like waves in that tide. Writing like this is enough to make other historians weep. It is what the hell history is for.

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Willamette Week

Excellent
Reviewed by Matt Buckingham on May 02 2012

Writing like this is enough to make other historians weep. It is what the hell history is for.

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News-Telegram

Good
Reviewed by TERRY MATHEWS on Jul 22 2013

...he brings Nov. 22, 1963, to life. From the bullets on Elm Street to the oath on Air Force One, Caro puts his readers in the middle of the action...

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Labour Uncut

Good
Reviewed by Anthony Painter on Jul 22 2012

The story of their rivalry is an enthralling tale all of its own. Let’s hope that someone tells us Caro’s full story one day.

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Vanity Fair

Above average
Reviewed by Bruce Handy on May 04 2012

My only complaints about Caro are that his prose can at times get a little fervid, and that I think he could have had a little more fun with his titles...

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The Commentator

Excellent
Reviewed by Ewan Watt on May 31 2012

For those who have read the author’s previous three volumes on Johnson, ‘Passage’ is probably the most accessible, and given that it’s the most contemporary, will likely engage more readers.

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GQ

Below average
Reviewed by Tom Carson on May 09 2012

...the cliche that pops up most often in reviews of his Johnson bio is "magisterial," and let's cue the laughter right there... "obsessive," the altogether more accurate cliche...surfaces sooner or later in most profiles of the author.

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The Seattle Times

Excellent
Reviewed by David M. Shribman on May 13 2012

Because Caro is a student of power and his subject an accumulator of power, the way power flowed to the White House in the first days of Johnson's presidency is described in meticulous, almost loving, detail...This book shows the mastery of Johnson in politics, and also the mastery of Caro in biography.

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The Berkshire Review

Excellent
Reviewed by Alan Miller on Aug 03 2012

The first 47 days of the Johnson administration, in which the best version of the man took charge, culminate this volume and are well worth the several hundred pages Caro devotes to them.

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Yahoo! Voices

Good
Reviewed by Mark Whittington on Jun 05 2013

Caro ends "Passage to Power" with a note of wistfulness. It is clear that the author is approving of Johnson's liberal agenda, including the War on Poverty and the Great Society, that many conservative historians have condemned as examples of government overreach and unwise social engineering.

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Everyday eBook

Good
Reviewed by Edward J. McNamara on Sep 17 2012

It is all here, beautifully rendered in Caro's book – all the personalities of that tumultuous period presented in very living color.

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Pure Politics

Good
Reviewed by Wilson Trivino on May 31 2012

This book takes you to a different era of American politics, one in which was filled with possibilities from landing to the moon, to civil rights, and eradicating poverty. The role of government and politics was to solve societal problems. Not what we see today...

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Chicago Center For Literature And Photography

Excellent
Reviewed by Karl Wolff on Oct 05 2012

Caro has succeeded in creating a book, and a series, that illuminates the risks and rewards in wielding presidential power.

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Morgan Holland 5 Sep 2013

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