The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent

1990: National Book Critics Circle Award
1990: Washington Monthly Best Political Book Award

        ROBERT A. CARO'S life of Lyndon Johnson continues-one of the richest, most intensive and most revealing examinations ever undertaken of an American President. It is the magnum opus of a writer perfectly suited to his task: the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer-historian, chronicler also of Robert Moses in The Power Broker, whose inspired research and profound understanding of the nature of ambition and the dynamics of power have made him a peerless explicator of political lives. The Path to Power, the first book of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, was greeted on its publication with a wave of acclaim, received the National Book Critics Circle Award and became a nationwide best-seller.

        And now, with the narrative passion and the unique gift for making us grasp the way the world really works that distinguish all his writing, Caro brings alive Lyndon Johnson in his wilderness years.

        In Means of Ascent, Johnson's almost mythic personality-part genius, part behemoth, at once hotly emotional and icily calculating-is seen at its most nakedly ambitious. This multifaceted book carries the President-to-be from the aftermath of his devastating defeat in his 1941 campaign for the Senate-the despair it engendered in him, and the grueling test of his spirit that followed as political doors slammed shut-through his service in World War II (and his artful embellishment of his record) to the foundation of his fortune (and the actual facts behind the myth he created about it).

        The culminating drama-the explosive heart of the book-is Caro's illumination, based on extraordinarily detailed investigation, of one of the great political mysteries of the century. Having immersed himself for fourteen years in Johnson 's life and world, tracking down hundreds of people who knew LBJ in Texas, in Washington and across the country, Caro is able to reveal the true story of the fiercely contested 1948 senatorial election, for forty years shrouded in rumor, which Johnson was not believed capable of winning, which he "had to" win or face certain political death, and which he did win-by 87 votes, the "87 votes that changed history."

        Telling that epic story "in riveting and eye-opening detail", Caro returns to the American consciousness a magnificent lost hero. He focuses closely not only on Johnson, whom we see harnessing every last particle of his strategic brilliance and energy, but on Johnson's "unbeatable" opponent, the beloved former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson, who embodied in his own life the myth of the cowboy knight and was himself a legend for his unfaltering integrity. And ultimately, as the political duel between the two men quickens-carrying with it all the confrontational and moral drama of the perfect Western-Caro makes us 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 dazzle.

        Means of Ascent is the second book in a multi-volume work that will stand as the political biography of our time.

Reviews for Means of Ascent:

"Caro burns into the reader's imagination the story of the [1948 Senate] election. Never has it been told so convincingly. And never has it been told so dramatically, with breathtaking detail piled on incredible development. It is thrilling because of the research...And it is thrilling because you find yourself, against all better Judgment, rooting for Johnson...In The Path to Power, Volume I of his monumental biography, Robert A. Caro ignited a blowtorch whose bright flame illuminated Johnson's early career. In Means of Ascent, Mr. Caro intensifies his flame to a brilliant blue point. "
-Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"Caro has a unique place among American political biographers. He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured. Caro's diligence [and] ambition are phenomenal...A remarkable story...Epic."
-Mark Feeney, The Boston Sunday Globe

"A spellbinding, hypnotic journey into the political life and times of Lyndon Johnson...Readers will appreciate the sheer magnitude of research, the illumination of enduring but obscured facets of this political period, and a narrative that brings to life with impressive detail the drama's major players and events...Caro's talent as a writer is evident throughout the book. Riveting drama."
-Jim Finley, The Los Angeles Times

"We who are alive today are privileged to be present at the creation of what, when it is completed, may rank as the most riveting and disturbing American political biography of this century...Magnificently written."
-Theodore M. O'Leary, The Kansas City Star

"Immensely engrossing...Caro is an indefatigable investigative reporter and a skillful historian who can make the most abstract material come vibrantly to life. [He has a] marvelous ability to tell a story...His analysis of how power is used-to build highways and dams, to win elections, to get rich-is masterly."
-Ronald Steel, The New York Times Book Review

"Means of Ascent is a political biography, a detective story, a western and a character study. Above all, it is a richly textured, multilayered chronicle of fundamental social and political change and how this change highlighted elements of Mr. Johnson's character: his powerful needs, tremendous ambition and particular genius."
-Robert A. Kronley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The most compelling study of American political power and corruption since Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men... It is nothing less than a political epic, the definitive account of a watershed election, rich with all of the intrigue and drama that have become the stuff of legend...[It has] the suspense of apolitical thriller."
-Steve Neal, Fort Worth Star Telegram

"Brilliant...No brief review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born."
-Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University

"Magnificent...Thunder and lightning rip through Mr. Caro's viscerally compelling work."
-Thomas W. Hazlett, The Wall Street Journal

"Masterful...A brilliant piece of scholarship."
-William Hines, The Chicago Sun-Times Book Week

"Riveting...explosive. Good historians bestow suspense on foregone conclusions. Such works manage to override knowledge about how things turned out; they do so by recapturing the tensions and uncertainties of the participants while the outcome was in doubt. That Lyndon Baines Johnson, for example, became the 36th President will surprise no one now. But readers of Robert Caro's Means of Ascent are in for a white-knuckle, hair-raising tale that could have ended in any of a dozen different ways, with L.B.J. in the White House the longest shot of all. This is good history...Caro's treatment achieves poetic intensity."
-Paul Gray, Time

"Caro's writing summons a reviewer's cliches-gripping, compelling, absorbing, irresistible...unputdownable. The sentences sparkle. The details pile up in a mountain of evidence...Caro has at last set the record straight."
-Richard Marius, Harvard Magazine

"Extraordinary and brilliant...Devastatingly persuasive...Caro's prodigious research, and his discovery of original sources ignored by other biographers, proves beyond doubt that much of what Johnson said about these years was false...The spadework combined with Caro's passion makes for drama more riveting than any novel."
-Mark A. Gamin, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A spellbinder...With every chapter you read more voraciously."
-Benjamin DeMott

"His research is dazzlingly exhaustive, his gripping story is enhanced by excellent writing, and his findings [seem] largely irrefutable. No one has done a better job of researching [the 1948 race] than Mr. Caro. He has amassed convincing evidence. He has produced a portrait not only of Lyndon Johnson, but also of the politics and values of mid-century America."
-Philip Seib, The Dallas Morning News

"Brilliant...An extraordinary piece of documentation."
-Ruth Pollack Coughlin, Detroit News

"A stunningly powerful, formidable work. Time and again, virtually chapter by chapter, Caro presents fresh and compelling accounts of Johnson's wilderness years. Exhaustive, unassailable research...A distinguished biography."
-W. Joseph Campbell, The Hartford Courant

"Astonishing and engrossing detail...Fascinating."
-Elizabeth Bennett, The Houston Post

"Rich with political drama, personal insights, abundant atmosphere, and great anecdotal detail. An essential addition to any American politics collection; highly recommended."
-Library Journal

"One can trust every detail. The sagaciousness and discretion of Caro's investigations are obvious from the start. The story of that election has all the excitement of a murder mystery in which the culprit is known, but the question is whether justice will triumph. Caro tells it with the same thriller instinct as the old novelists, yet with the passion for accuracy of the most exacting detective. "
-Denis Wadley, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune

"Caro has changed the art of political biography."
-Nicholas von Hoffman

"Caro is vivid in his storytelling, masterly in his command of [diverse] subjects. Means of Ascent is a study of events as well as of character-events the more compelling for having been hidden for so many years-but the character study is equally dramatic. What is most impressive, however, is Caro's skill at what, in this case, deserves to be called not research but excavation. Caro's account of this all-American political circus [the 1948 Senate election] is a terrific piece of reporting and writing that makes one feel tremendous excitement and even suspense at the events leading up to a foregone conclusion."
-Rhoda Koenig, New York Magazine

"Compelling political biography...a course in political campaigning. "
-Mike Cox, Austin-American Statesman

"A brilliant but disturbing book. .A devastating study that warrants the broadest readership. Caro is a tireless investigator. He reminds us that Americans need to be vigilant in upholding their highest standards of ethics and good government."
-Guy Halverson, The Christian Science Monitor

"Caro is the premier biographer of our time."
-Bernard D. Nossiter, The Progressive

"Robert Caro gives us an LBJ who was human and then some, and what's enthralling is how this lucid, fascinating book keeps forcing us to confront the extreme contradictions of what (on good days) we call human nature. It's a testament to Robert Caro's skill that we find it so difficult to get a firm moral fix on Johnson. Caro is that rare biographer who seems intrigued by his subject but happily free from the urge to either heroicize, psychologize-or excoriate and punish."
-Francine Prose, 7 Days

"A spellbinding political thriller...riveting. "
-Arthur Salm, San Diego Tribune

"A great book, and I believe the completed biography will be the great book about American politics in the twentieth century. The story of the '48 election is remarkable, unique. If it weren't a cliche, I'd say it has Tolstoyan epic grandeur."
-Robert K. Massie

"A thorough, compelling, fascinating portrait...Means of Ascent is thrilling. There is really no other Word. Caro's heightened narrative style, with its rolling, slightly archaic cadences, bears the reader along the river. He brings to the story of the election theft...not only new details but an edge-of-the-seat storytelling power."
-Lloyd Rose, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"No one understands Lyndon Johnson without reading Robert A. Caro."
-James F. Vesely, The Sacramento Union

Article by Robert A. Caro: "My Search for Coke Stevenson", New York Times Book Review February 3, 1991