Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Book Review - The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Robert Caro

Very rarely has a politician’s political fortunes been where one is at height of power, then fallen to near-powerlessness, then in a moment back to the heights. Robert Caro’s fourth volume about the life of Lyndon Johnson tells the story of Johnson’s clumsy attempts to run for president in 1960 while leader of the Senate, then the offer of the vice president by John F. Kennedy, despite the intense dislike of Johnson by Robert Kennedy.

Johnson then spent the next couple of years isolated in the office of vice president. So used to power, Johnson languished and was marginalized while John and Robert Kennedy grew more powerful and more popular with the American public. Desperate to have some influence on events, Johnson tried to exert his viewpoints on current events such as the Cuban missile crisis and the civil rights movements. These attempts at influence were quickly squashed by the Kennedys. Entering the fall of 1963, Johnson’s political fortunes were at the lowest ebb: a Senate investigation committee and Life magazine was about to look into some of Johnson’s business dealings, and there was the potential of John Kennedy dropping Lyndon Johnson from the ticket for the next presidential election. All of that changed in a few seconds in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

After Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson was able to pull the country together and to prove to the many doubters that he could lead the country under extremely stressful situations. Johnson chose to continue Kennedy’s programs, especially the 1963 Civil Rights Bill when everyone felt that it was a lost cause. The book ends with the passage of the Federal Budget and the upcoming civil rights battles. Also on the horizon is the upcoming election and the dark specter of Vietnam.

An outstanding book, I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned much about modern political life. I was amused at the conflict between Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and felt heartbroken with Robert Kennedy with his brother’s assassination. A thoroughly excellent book and eagerly await Caro’s final volume.

Submitted by Vincent Solfronk
Youth Department
Central Library

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