The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power

1983: National Book Critics Circle Award
1983: Washington Monthly Best Political Book Award
1983: H. L. Mencken Award
1983: Texas Institute of Letters Award
1986: Award in Literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

        The Years of Lyndon Johnson is the political biography of our time. Here is the perfect joining of subject and writer: Johnson, the man of awesome complexity, energy, ambition, and power- obsessed with secrecy, obscuring (often "rewriting") the facts of his personal and political life; Caro, his biographer, awarded both the Pulitzer and the Parkman Prizes for his life of Robert Moses, The Power Broker-and everywhere acclaimed for the brilliance, tenacity, and integrity of his research, for his grasp of character and of the workings of power. The conjunction has produced a monumental and galvanizing book that is a landmark in American biography. No president-no era of American politics-has been so intensively and sharply examined at a time when so many prime witnesses to hitherto untold or misinterpreted facets of a life, a career, and a period of history could still be persuaded to speak.

        The Path to Power-the first of the three volumes that will constitute The Years of Lyndon Johnson-reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and urge to power that set LBJ apart. Chronicling the startling early emergence of Johnson's political genius, it follows him from his Texas boyhood through the years of the Depression in the Texas Hill Country to the triumph of his congressional debut in New Deal Washington, to his heartbreaking defeat in his first race for the Senate, and his attainment, nonetheless, of the national power for which he hungered.

        We see in him, from earliest childhood, a fierce, unquenchable necessity to be first, to win, to dominate-coupled with a limitless capacity for hard, unceasing labor in the service of his own ambition. Caro shows us the big, gangling, awkward young Lyndon -raised in one of the country's most desperately poor and isolated areas, his education mediocre at best, his pride stung by his father's slide into failure and financial ruin-lunging for success, moving inexorably toward that ultimate "impossible" goal that he sets for himself years before any friend or enemy suspects what it may be.

        We watch him, while still at college, instinctively (and ruthlessly) creating the beginnings of the political machine that was to serve him for three decades. We see him employing his extraordinary ability to mesmerize and manipulate powerful older men, to mesmerize (and sometimes almost enslave) useful subordinates. We see him carrying out, before his thirtieth year, his first great political inspiration: tapping-and becoming the political conduit for-the money and influence of the new oil men and contractors who were to grow with him to immense power. We follow, close up, the radical fluctuations of his relationships with the formidable "Mr. Sam" Raybum (who loved him like a son and whom he betrayed) and with FDR himself. And we follow the dramas of his emotional life-the intensities and complications of his relationships with his family, his contemporaries, his girls; his wooing and winning of the shy Lady Bird; his secret love affair, over many years, with the mistress of one of his most ardent and generous supporters...

        Johnson driving his people to the point of exhausted tears, equally merciless with himself. ..Johnson bullying, cajoling, lying, yet inspiring an amazing loyalty...Johnson maneuvering to dethrone the unassailable old Jack Garner (then Vice-President of the United States) as the New Deal's "connection" in Texas, and seize the power himself...Johnson raging...Johnson hugging...Johnson bringing light and, indeed, life to the worn Hill Country farmers and their old-at-thirty wives via the district's first electric lines.

        We see him at once unscrupulous, admirable, treacherous, devoted. And we see the country that bred him: the harshness and "nauseating loneliness" of the rural life; the tragic panorama of the Depression; the sudden glow of hope at the dawn of the Age of Roosevelt. And always, in the foreground, on the move, LBJ . In preparation for this book, Caro has-through some seven years-immersed himself in Johnson's life and world: has lived in Johnson's Hill Country, has crisscrossed the United States, finding and talking to hundreds of men and women-his boyhood friends and sweethearts, his college classmates and rivals, the men who politicked with him in congressional cloakrooms, the young New Deal aides (among them Corcoran, Cohen, Fortas, Rowe) who helped him rise and rose with him.

        Here as never before is Lyndon Johnson-his Texas, his Washington, his America-in a book that brings us as close as we have ever been to a true perception of political genius and the American political process.

•  1982 Los Angeles Times Review for The Path to Power

Reviews for THE PATH TO POWER:

"Not only a historical but a literary event. An epic biography. A sweeping, richly detailed portrait [vivid with] Caro's astonishing concern for the humanity of his characters. An awesome achievement!"
--Peter S. Prescott, NEWSWEEK

"Stands at the pinnacle of the biographical art. "
--Donald R. Morris, HOUSTON POST

A monumental political saga...powerful and stirring. It's an overwhelming experience to read The Path to Power."
--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"An ineradicable likeness of an American giant. All previous accounts of our Presidents' growing-up years seem scanty and uninformative by comparison. Caro has brought to life a young man so believable and unforgettable that we can hear his heartbeat and touch him. If an earlier famous Johnson had his Boswell, and Abraham Lincoln his Sandburg, LBJ has found a portraitist who similarly will owe his fame to his great subject and his certitude in taking control of it. As in those other masterpieces, the biographer here has revivified not only a man but an entire era and physical setting."
--Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University, in THE NEW LEADER

"The major biography of recent years. Brilliant. Magisterial. A stunning accomplishment of documentation and narrative. Robert Caro has given us an American life of compelling fascination. The book is a benchmark beside which other biographies will be measured for some time to come."

"A superb and unique biography. Meticulous in research, grand in scale, this is a major work that will remain a tower of its kind."
--Barbara W. Tuchman

"Caro's narrative never stumbles, his prose never flattens. The lengthy sketches of supporting players, like Sam Rayburn, are masterly in themselves. And the secret love affairs, cash stuffed envelopes and other reportorial hand grenades seem to come remarkably often for so long a book on so familiar a subject."
--Donald Morrison, TIME

"Outsized and overwhelming. Splendid and moving. Caro presents him so close we can feel him. There are two more volumes to come, which means that at this rate Caro's work will eventually acquire Gibbon-like dimensions, Gibbon-like thoroughness too, and Gibbon-like passion. There are hints in this first volume that the complete work aims at a 'Decline and Fall' portrait of an America that reached a summit of wealth and power and began to fail for lack of vision. Caro is using Johnson as a focus and symbol for a historical turning point that goes beyond the individual. Caro is a phenomenon. He is an artful writer, with a remarkable power to evoke and characterize politicians, landscapes, relationships; with the ability to convey all manner of experiences. This massive book is almost continuously exciting. The detail is extraordinary. It is a tour de force at the very least; eventually, it may come to be the base of a monument."

"The blunt fact is that a masterpiece of biography is being added to American literature. For sheer scale, energy and artistry in capturing a man's life, nothing approaches it."
--John Barkham Reviews

"What a marvelous book! A work of majesty perhaps unequalled in American political biography. The scope of its research and the sheer effort invested in unearthing facts are awesome."
--Robert K. Massie


"A great biography. Depth of research and depth of feeling make the difference. One is appalled by Johnson--and awed."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Fascinating. "

"Caro has become the nation's preeminent biographer. He won both the Pulitzer and the Parkman prizes for his brilliant portrayal of Robert Moses in The Power Broker. Now his masterful portrayal of Lyndon Johnson has already won the National Book Critics Circle Award as the best work of nonfiction published in 1982. The Path to Power is a magnificent mix of narrative history and investigative reporting."
--Alan L. Miller, THE DETROIT NEWS

"This is a watershed book. Caro writes with sweep and passion. From the first sentence I was hooked. All other biographies of Johnson pale in comparison.
--Joseph P. Lash

"No mere political biography. Caro is on the way to becoming our finest fine-tooth-comb historian, one who researches a subject so thoroughly there seems no possible rebuttal to the arguments he presents on the issues raised."

"By every measure--depth of research, brilliance of conception, the seamless flow of the prose--The Path to Power is a masterpiece of biography."
--Dan Cryer, NEWSDAY


"The book races at Johnson's own whirlwind pace. A tour de force that blends relentless detective work, polemical vigor and artful storytelling into the most compelling narrative of American political life since All the King's Men."

"Magnificent. For understanding our recent past and the men and policies that brought the country to its present condition and aimed us toward whatever our future is to be, it's an immensely important work. If the second and third volumes live up to the promise, Caro will have carved a literary Mt. Rushmore, with only one face. The face won't be pretty, but the work will stand for a long time."

"Caro ' s research is relentless and his writing never shows a seam."
--Priscilla Johnson McMillan, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

"Engrossing and revealing. This fascinating, immensely long and highly readable book is the fullest account we have--and are ever likely to have--of the early years of LBJ."
--David Herbert Donald, front page, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"The Path to Power will burnish Caro's reputation as a panoramic biographer."
--Robert Sherrill, front page, WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

"A brilliant and necessary book. There are whole and fascinating areas in Johnson's life that no one else discovered."
--Merle Miller, front page, CHICAGO TRIBUNE BOOKWORLD

"A landmark in American political biography. The definitive life of LBJ. Caro has written a Johnson biography that is richer and fuller and may well be one of the freshest and most revealing studies ever written about a major historical figure."

"A masterful narrative on a grand scale, a fascinating portrait of LBJ's activities set against a fully drawn canvas of life in the Texas hill country. Caro displays a historian's regard for rules of fact and evidence. By far the most significant Johnson book to appear."

"Extraordinary. A powerful, absorbing, at times awe-inspiring, and often deeply alarming story. A vivid picture of the emergence of one of this century's authentically great politicians."

"A brief review cannot convey the depth, range and detail of this fascinating story. Caro is an inexhaustible researcher and a meticulous historian. Every page reflects his Herculean efforts to break through the banalities and the falsehoods previously woven around the life of Lyndon Johnson. This epic book combines the social scientist's interest in power with the historian's concern with theme and context, the political scientist's interest in system, and the novelist's passion to reveal the inner workings of the personality and relate them to great human issues. Like the man it portrays, it will infuriate and inspire, arouse admiration and controversy--and perhaps no higher compliment can be paid such a monument of interpretive biography."