The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson by the American writer Robert Caro. Four volumes have been published, running to more than 3,000 pages in total, detailing Johnson's early life, education, and political career. A fifth volume is expected to deal with the bulk of Johnson's presidency and post-presidential years. The series is published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Book One: The Path to Power (1982)
In the first volume, The Path to Power, Caro retraced Johnson's early life growing up in the Texas Hill Country and working in Washington, D.C. Caro's research included renting a house in Hill Country for three years, living there much of that time, to interview numerous people who knew Johnson and his family, and to better understand the environment in which Johnson had grown up.
This volume covers Johnson's life through his failed 1941 campaign for the United States Senate. This book was released on November 12, 1982. It won the 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a finalist for the 1983 National Book Award, hardcover autobiography or biography.
Book Two: Means of Ascent (1990)
In the second volume, Means of Ascent, Caro detailed Johnson's life from the aftermath of Johnson's first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1941 to his election to the Senate in 1948. Much of the book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested Democratic primary against Coke R. Stevenson in that year. The book was released on March 7, 1990.
Book Three: Master of the Senate (2002)
In the third volume, Master of the Senate, Caro chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent in United States Congress, including his tenure as Senate majority leader. This 1,167-page work examines in particular Johnson's battle to pass a landmark civil rights bill through Congress without it tearing apart his party, whose southern bloc was anti-civil rights while the northern faction was more supportive of civil rights. Although its scope was limited, the ensuing Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first such legislation since the Reconstruction era.
The book was released on April 23, 2002. It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, the 2002 National Book Award for Nonfiction, the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, and the 2002 D.B. Hardeman Prize.
Book Four: The Passage of Power (2012)
In the fourth volume, The Passage of Power, Caro covers Johnson's life from 1958 to 1964, the challenges Johnson faced upon his assumption of the presidency, and the significant accomplishments in the months after Kennedy's assassination.
The 736-page book was released on May 1, 2012. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography), the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013), the American History Book Prize (2013) and the Biographers International Organization's Plutarch Award (2013). It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012). It was selected as one of Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (non-fiction #2).
In November 2011, Caro estimated that the fifth and final volume would require another two to three years to write. In March 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume. As of April 2014, he was continuing to research the book. In a televised interview with C-SPAN in May 2017, Caro confirmed over 400 typed pages as being complete, covering the period 1964–65; and that once he completes the section on Johnson's 1965 legislative achievements, he intends to move to Vietnam to continue the writing process.
In an interview with The New York Review of Books in January 2018, Caro said that he was writing about 1965 and 1966 and a non-chronological section about the relationship between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. Asked if he still planned to visit Vietnam soon, Caro replied: "Not yet, no. This is a very long book. And there's a lot to do before that's necessary. I'm getting close to it now." In December 2018, it was reported that Caro is still "several years from finishing" the volume. In January 2020, Caro said he had "typed 604 manuscript pages so far" and is "currently on a section relating to the creation of Medicare in 1965". Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Caro postponed his research trip to Vietnam and a visit to the Johnson Presidential Library, but continued work on the book from his home in Manhattan.
Themes of the series
Throughout the biography, Caro examines the acquisition and use of political power in American democracy, from the perspective both of those who wield it and those who are at its mercy. In an interview with Kurt Vonnegut and Daniel Stern, he once said: "I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," saying he wanted instead "to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times—particularly political power."
Caro's books portray Johnson as alternating between scheming opportunist and visionary progressive. Caro argues, for example, that Johnson's victory in the 1948 runoff for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate was achieved through extensive fraud and ballot stuffing, just as Johnson had lost his 1941 Senate race because his opponent stuffed the ballot boxes more than Johnson. Caro also highlights some of Johnson's campaign contributions, such as those from the Texas construction firm Brown & Root; in 1962 the company was acquired by another Texas firm, Halliburton, which became a major contractor in the Vietnam War. Despite these criticisms, Caro's portrayal of Johnson also notes his struggles on behalf of progressive causes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Influence of the series
Politicians have responded strongly to The Years of Lyndon Johnson:
- Tom Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, once told the newspaper Roll Call after reading Master of the Senate that "I think the thing you learn from reading that magnificent book is that every day, this body makes history."
- Walter Mondale, a former US vice president, described Master of the Senate as a "superb work of history."
- Richard Nixon, a former President of the United States, described The Path To Power as "making Johnson look like a goddamn animal... because he was."
- Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, said of the series: "It's a wonderfully written set of books. The stories are quite breathtaking ... These books challenge the view of history that politics is just about individual maneuvering. It's about ideas and principled policy achievements. That's what makes it one of the great political biographies."
- William Hague, a former British Conservative Party leader and foreign secretary, nominated Means of Ascent as the book he would most like to have with him on a desert island, in the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. He later wrote: "I explained that it was the best political biography of any kind, that I had ever read. I said it conveyed more brilliantly than any other publication what it really feels like to be a politician ... When a fourth volume finally completes the set, this will be nothing short of a magnificent history of 20th century America."
- Michael Howard, another former Conservative Party leader, encountered the series after swapping houses with Caro for a holiday. He said, "For Caro, writing a biography is writing a thriller—in Johnson's case, a Western. You can't stop turning the pages. He doesn't like Johnson, but the facts are there so you can make your own judgments. I can't recommend this book highly enough."
- Beau Willimon, who created the political drama television series House of Cards, said he had drawn inspiration for the series from The Years of Lyndon Johnson. In the last episode of the first season, a copy of The Passage of Power can be seen lying on the desk of protagonist Frank Underwood.
- All the Way – play
- Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. 1982. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 0-679-72945-3). xxiii + 882 p. + 48 p. of plates: illus.
- Caro, Robert A., The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. 1990. Alfred a Knopf Inc., New York. (ISBN 0-679-73371-X). xxxiv + 506 pp.
- Caro, Robert A., Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2002. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-394-72095-4). xxiv + 1167 pp.
- Caro, Robert A., The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. 2012. Alfred a Knopf Inc, New York. (ISBN 0-375-71325-5). 736 pp.
- Caro, Robert A. (January 21, 2019). "Robert A. Caro on the Secrets of Lyndon Johnson's Archives". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
- "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "National Book Awards – 2002". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20. (With acceptance speech.)
- "Recipients of the D. B. Hardeman Prize". LBJ Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
- Kakutani, Michiko (April 29, 2012). "A Nation's Best and Worst, Forged in a Crucible". New York Times.
- John Williams (March 1, 2013). "Robert A. Caro, Ben Fountain Among National Book Critics Circle Winners". New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- Staff writer (April 19, 2013). "Announcing the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
- Jennifer Schuessler (February 20, 2013). "Another Prize for Robert Caro". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
- "Biographers International Organization, The Plutarch Award". Archived from the original on 2015-05-18.
- "National Book Award Finalists Announced Today". Library Journal. October 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
- Hillel Italie (November 1, 2011). "Caro's fourth LBJ book coming in May". Associated Press.
- Erik Spanberg (March 8, 2013). "Catching up with award-winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
- Patrick Beach (April 5, 2014). "Caro, LBJ biographer, is hard at work on book No. 5". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
- Robert Caro on the fifth (and final?) LBJ volume, C-Span
- Claudia Dreifus (January 16, 2018). "'Studies in Power': An Interview with Robert Caro". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
- Hillel Italie (December 12, 2018). "Robert Caro reflects on his career in upcoming book". Associated Press. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
- Schuessler, Jennifer (January 8, 2020). "Robert Caro's Papers Headed to New-York Historical Society". The New York Times.
- Italie, Hillel (May 8, 2020). "Robert Caro writes, and waits, during the COVID-19 outbreak". The Charlotte Observer. Associated Press. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Barbara Stone, ed. (1999). "The Round Table: Fiction, Biography And The Use Of Power". Hampton Shorts. Water Mill, N.Y.: Hamptons Literary Publications. IV. ISBN 0-9658652-2-3. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012.
- "Reviews". www.robertcaro.com. Robert A. Caro. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- Leopold, Todd (August 28, 2013). "House of Cards creator Beau Willimon plays a solid hand". CNN. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
- Moseley, Tolly. "How LBJ's ghost haunts 'House of Cards'". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 19 April 2020.