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Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III Paperback – Apr 25 2003
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Robert Caro's Master of the Senate examines in meticulous detail Lyndon Johnson's career in that body, from his arrival in 1950 (after 12 years in the House of Representatives) until his election as JFK's vice president in 1960. This, the third of a projected four-volume series, studies not only the pragmatic, ruthless, ambitious Johnson, who wielded influence with both consummate skill and "raw, elemental brutality," but also the Senate itself, which Caro describes (pre-1957) as a "cruel joke" and an "impregnable stronghold" against social change. The milestone of Johnson's Senate years was the 1957 Civil Rights Act, whose passage he single-handedly engineered. As important as the bill was--both in and of itself and as a precursor to wider-reaching civil rights legislation--it was only close to Johnson's Southern "anti-civil rights" heart as a means to his dream: the presidency. Caro writes that not only does power corrupt, it "reveals," and that's exactly what this massive, scrupulously researched book does. A model of social, psychological, and political insight, it is not just masterful; it is a masterpiece. --H. O'Billovich --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
As a genre, Senate biography tends not to excite. The Senate is a genteel establishment engaged in a legislative process that often appears arcane to outsiders. Nevertheless, there is something uniquely mesmerizing about the wily, combative Lyndon Johnson as portrayed by Caro. In this, the third installment of his projected four-volume life of Johnson (following The Path to Power and Means of Ascent), Caro traces the Texan's career from his days as a newly elected junior senator in 1949 up to his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In 1953, Johnson became the youngest minority leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, the youngest majority leader. Throughout the book, Caro portrays an uncompromisingly ambitious man at the height of his political and rhetorical powers: a furtive, relentless operator who routinely played both sides of the street to his advantage in a range of disputes. "He would tell us [segregationists]," recalled Herman Talmadge, "I'm one of you, but I can help you more if I don't meet with you." At the same time, Johnson worked behind the scenes to cultivate NAACP leaders. Though it emerges here that he was perhaps not instinctively on the side of the angels in this or other controversies, the pragmatic Senator Johnson nevertheless understood the drift of history well, and invariably chose to swim with the tide, rather than against. The same would not be said later of the Johnson who dwelled so glumly in the White House, expanding a war that even he, eventually, came to loathe. But that is another volume: one that we shall await eagerly. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Therefore Master of the Senate has a lot to live up to. Sadly it doesn't come close. Here's the flaws I see:
1. The long introductory section on the Senate is workaday stuff and not necessary. Johnson himself does not appear until after page 100, and even then Caro is still summarising the story so far.
2. Far too much emphasis is laid on the 1958 Civil Rights Act. Chapter after chapter is spent building up to one bill, and then Caro glosses over 1958-1960 in a few pages.
3. I think he also mis-interprets the 1958 bill. We find out afterwards that Johnson presided over a number of other civil rights bill in 58/59, some of which contradicted and over-wrote the 58 legislation.
4. Caro's editors have over-indulged him. The book could have done with a good pruning in places. This would have been an excellent 700 pager. Instead we get 1200 pages about just a few years in Johnson's life. Three tomes in, and we still haven't got to the 1960 convention. Going at the same pace, the last book will have to be over 2,000 pages.
It's not all negative. This is the definitive Johnson biography and we are watching one of the world's greatest biographers at work. I just think the project has come a little off the rails here and Master of the Senate will never be held in the same regard as its two predecessors. Let's hope Caro can somehow round off this magnum opus with a fitting Volume 4.
The problem with the book is that, even though it's 1000 pages long, it feels oddly unsatisfying. I read it through and found myself asking, "Wait, how did he get control of the Senate again?" When you really look at it, Caro tends to say things like, "If so-and-so senator couldn't be persuaded by money or by concessions [or whatever else], then Johnson would just use his power to get the vote." Caro seems to keep using this phrase - Johnson would just use his "power" - to explain things. But that doesn't explain anything, and when you dig down to see what it means, Caro doesn't have any more of an answer than anyone else. He fails to really convey the "why" of things - why no one would vote for Estes Kefauver to get one some committee, or why everyone followed Russell's word so closely, or why the Policy committee decided so much. Any attempt to explain it just hits up against some well-written but basically empty passage saying how "clever" or "feared" or "powerful" Johnson or Russell was.
The real reason for this failure is the basic exaggeration of Johnson's power. Caro makes him out to be the wisest, cleverest person since Solomon. But instead of being "Master of the Senate," Johnson is really just "Master of His Times.Read more ›
The highlight of Johnson's Senate years came in 1957, when he shepherded, against almost insurmountable odds, passage of the first Federal civil rights bill since Reconstruction. The final bill was a greatly watered-down version of what was initially proposed and supported by liberals as well as Republican's looking to increase their share of the black vote. Johnson knew that majority support for a civil rights bill with any teeth meant little, since segregationist Southern Democrats would never let such a bill be voted on, using their time-honed practice of filibuster. So Part III of the law, outlawing segregation in public places, was removed, allowing only the voting rights section to remain. And even in the area of voting rights the inclusion of a jury trial amendment almost guaranteed limited enforcement in the south. But Johnson also recognized, as belatedly did much of the rest of the country, that however small a step the approved bill was, it was nevertheless a milestone-signifying that the southern Democrats hold on power could be broken.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Amazing biography that builds setting in an incredibly detailed way, building anticipation for the main character to burst on the scene and set awry the powers that be. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Benjamin Sasges
Like the other three books so far is this massive project by Robert A. Caro, this a great book.Published 21 months ago by John R. Smith
Caro really has got the essence of power in politics.
LBJ is captured in extraordinary depth......the outstanding essence of the man and his flaws.
I have really gotten into the history of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Caro's books are really detailed and give you lots of history.Published on July 29 2013 by Jim Loughlean
I have read all three of Robert Caro's volumes on LBJ with fascination. Caro is unsurpassed as a researcher, and while there is far too much repetition here (similar evidence... Read morePublished on July 9 2004 by John C. Farrell
4 Volumes on a Dead Man. What a Waste of Time.
Homo-Erotism of a Dead President. LBJ Dead since 1973. Read more
The third volume in Mr. Caro's biography of Lyndon B. Johnson gives great insight into both the man and the institution. Read morePublished on March 19 2004 by J. Kelly
Caro's Master of the Senate is a masterful sage of a mysterious man. One cannot decide if this man was pure genious, pure power-monger, just a bit evil, or a secretive angel on a... Read morePublished on Feb. 1 2004 by G. Cattarin
One stands in awe of Caro's ability to gather and digest so much information and then present it in a compelling story. Read morePublished on Jan. 31 2004 by Amazon Customer
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