Glenn Garvin on Robert Caro's Epic Biography of Lyndon Johnson


Over the past three decades, Robert Caro has been working on a planned five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, tracing the acerbic politician's rise to power from the central Texas hill country to the U.S. Senate and finally to the White House. Each entry to date has been transfixing, writes Glenn Garvin, and the recently released fourth volume, The Passage of Power, is no exception. Its 712 pages cover only the years from 1960 to 1963: Johnson's unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination against John F. Kennedy; the rancorous negotiations that led to Johnson's inclusion on the ticket; his tormented internal exile in the vice presidency; and the first month of his tempestuous presidency. Caro's fundamental aim is to show that Johnson, reduced to a sulky mope by serial humiliations at the hands of the Kennedys during his vice presidency, instantly rose to greatness in his handling of the difficult transition following the assassination in Dallas. As long as you don't confuse greatness with goodness, Garvin writes, Caro makes a compelling and highly readable case.