The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate

2003: Pulitzer Prize in Biography
2003: National Book Award
2003: Carl Sandburg Award
2003: Los Angeles Times Book Award

Photo: Bill O'Leary

      Master of the Senate carries Lyndon Johnson's story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.

        It was during these years that all Johnson's experience-from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term-the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate's hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the "unchangeable" Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.

        Caro demonstrates how Johnson's political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust- or at least the cooperation-of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson's ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights. In a breathtaking tour de force, Caro details Johnson's amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.

        Master of the Senate is told with an abundance of rich detail that could only have come from Caro's peerless research-years immersed in the worlds of Johnson and the United States Senate, examining thousands of documents and talking to hundreds of people, from pages and cloakroom clerks to senators and administrative aides. The result is both a galvanizing portrait of the man himself-the titan of Capital Hill, volcanic, mesmerizing-and a definitive and revelatory study of the workings and personal and legislative power. It is a work that displays all the acuteness of understanding and narrative brilliance that led the New York Times to call Caro's The Path to Power "a monumental political saga...powerful and stirring."

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Reviews for Master of the Senate:

"In this fascinating book, Robert Caro does more than carry forward his epic life of Lyndon Johnson. With Compelling narrative power and with remarkable subtlety and sensitivity, he illuminates the Senate of the United States and its Byzantine power struggles. In this historical tour-de-force, Robert Caro shows himself the true Master of the Senate."
--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"It (Master of the Senate) makes a wonderful, a glorious tale. The book reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does. I laughed often as I read. And even though I knew what the outcome of a particular episode would be, I followed Caro's account of it with excitement. I went back over chapters to make sure I had not missed a word.....It will be hard to equal this amazing book."
--Anthony Lewis, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, April 28, 2002

"Over hundreds of pages, Mr. Caro tracks Johnson's most intricate manoeuvres in an unprecedented close-up of how a politician of his calibre should shepherd through such a broad and divisive piece of legislation. Bismarck's sardonic crack that making laws, like making sausages, should never be looked at too closely, is triumphantly refuted.

"The most complete portrait of the Senate ever drawn. The work, told within the framework of the life of Lyndon Johnson, is really an epic history of the twentieth century. "
--Michael Wolff, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, April 15, 2002

"A Soaring Johnson, Ruthless and Crude, but Compassionate."
"...Lyndon Johnson is also brilliantly captured by Robert A. Caro in "Master of the Senate," the third volume of his definitive biography author's symphonic ode to a president's Senate career.....
"...At a time when so many historians have focused on the presidency, Mr. Caro has written a panoramic study of how power plays out in the legislative arena. Combining the best techniques of investigative reporting with majestic storytelling ability, he has created a vivid, revelatory institutional history as well as a rich hologram of Johnson's character."
--Jill Abramson, NEW YORK TIMES, April 24, 2002

"Is this the Greatest Biography of our Era?"
"After 30 years, a million words, 2000 pages and three volumes, Robert Caro's life of Lyndon Johnson is nowhere near complete. Yet it is already being hailed as a masterpiece."
--Daniel Finkelstein, THE TIMES OF LONDON, April 25, 2002

".....Magisterial, exhaustive, and highly literate, a Plutarch (or perhaps Suetonius) for our time: would that all political biographies were so good."
--Kirkus Review, April 1, 2002

"Big Book, Big Man"
"Over hundreds of pages. Mr. Caro tracks Johnson's most intricate manoeuvres in an unprecedented close-up of how a politician of his caliber could shepherd through such a broad and divisive piece of legislation. Bismarck's sardonic crack that making laws, like making sausages, should never be looked at too closely, is triumphantly refuted.
   "Mr. Caro's research spans decades and his command of material is encyclopedic. He drives the story forward irresistibly and makes the arcane almost graphic. Master of the Senate takes less stamina to read than to lift. If Mr. Caro's work on Johnson has not already set a new standard in American political biography, it surly will when his story of Johnson's presidency is complete."
--THE ECONOMIST, April 6, 2002 Pg. 75

"The Middle of the Journey: Caro's life of Johnson brings Lyndon blazing into the Senate"
"Mesmerizing... Master of the Senate, like the two previous Johnson volumes and like Caro's legendary biography of Robert Moses, is like the historian's equivalent of a Mahler symphony: Caro includes chapter-length portraits of major players (Sens. Richard Russell and Hubert Humphrey) and a 100-page long history of the U.S. Senate. And while Caro is often as hard on Johnson the sneaky politician as he was in previous volumes, this time the carping serves a real purpose: it makes Johnson's heroism in the cause of civil rights all the more believable and impressive....Without ever straying from the mountain of facts he's amassed, Caro delivers a tale rife with drama and hypnotic in the telling."
--Malcom Jones, NEWSWEEK, April 15, 2002 Pg. 52

"Part Devil, Part Angel: Robert Caro's massive and magisterial Master of the Senate charts Lyndon Johnson's cunning rise"
"Caro, whose great gifts are indefatigable legwork and a sense of historical drama and character, has a fine protagonist for his life's work... Caro sees the man in full -- whirlwind of ego, exhibitionists (he like to urinate in public) Uriah Heep, hilarious mimic, legislative magician, idealist visionary....Caro's immersion in the man and period yields a fascinating, entertaining abundance."
--Lance Morrow, TIME, April 29, 2002

"Caro's new book is a terrific study of power politics and is up to the standard of his widely acclaimed previous LBJ volumes. Master of the Senate is probably the best book ever written about the U.S. Senate."
--Steve Neal, THE CHICAGO SUNDAY TIMES, April 17, 2002,

"With his third volume on LBJ, Caro is a master of biography"
"Master of the Senate ... is a dazzling tour de force that certifies Caro as the country's preeminent specialist in examining political power and its uses for good and ill. Of all the many Johnson biographies, none approaches Caro's work in painstaking thoroughness, meticulous detail and the capture of character. ....With his Tolstoyian touch for story telling and drama, Caro gives us a fascinating ride through the corridors of Senate sovereignty..."
--Paul Duke, BALTIMORE SUN, April 27, 2002

"Mastering the Senate"
"Master of the Senate is a spectacular piece of historical biography, delicious reading for both political junkies and serious students of the political process."
--Robert D. Novak, THE WEEKLY STANDARD, April 29, 2002, p. 39

"Master of the Senate is vintage Robert Caro -- a portrait so deft, vivid, and compelling that you practically feel LBJ gripping your arm and bending you to his will.
--Jean Strouse

"In this magnificent work, Robert Caro has given us the grand and absorbing saga of Lyndon Johnson, the U.S. Senate, and the Democratic Party at mid-century. The richly cadenced prose is hypnotic, the research prodigious, the analysis acute, the mood spellbinding, and the cast of characters mythic in scale. I cannot conceive of a better book about Capitol Hill. An unforgettable, epic achievement in the art of biography."
--Ron Chernow

"The obvious question about the third volume in Caro's dynamic, definitive biography of LBJ, following its award-winning predecessors, The Path to Power (1982) and Means of Ascent (1990), is: Does it live up to the profound success of the earlier volumes? The answer is a resounding yes."

"The Greater Power Broker of them All"
"Caro must be American's greatest living Presidential biographer. In this third volume on Johnson, he entrances us with both his words and his research. With due deference to David McCullough, no other contemporary biographer offers such a complex picture of the forces driving an American politician or populates his work with such vividly drawn secondary characters...the author is at his best when relating the impact of congressional action on Americans' lives. You can almost smell the musty offices in the Barbour County Courthouse in Eufala, Ala, as black citizens try in vain to register to vote. And you can feel the pain of Maud Olds after LBJ leads the savage confirmation fight against her husband,...Leland Olds, in a heavy handed attempt to curry favor with Texas utility companies."
--Richard S. Dunham, BUSINESS WEEK, May 6, 2002

"Caro's Epic Tome Captures LBJ's Imposing Persona"
"Regarding Robert A. Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson, the indispensable word is epic. Epic in length, epic in reach, epic in the personalities that march across its pages.... Like its predecessors, Master of the Senate is a brilliant study of a driven and masterful politician, a book dense with fly-on-the-wall detail, written with fluency and a novelist feel for high drama...Like any good epic, Master of the Senate has a plot, a grand narrative that narrative trunk Caro grafts numberless branches of astonishing variety and richness. What nourishes this growth is his reliance not simply on written documents but on the testimony of men and women who watched Johnson at work in the Senate. Much of the real story of these years occurred in the cloakrooms off the Senate floor and in the offices far from the public eye. Caro, who is obviously a skilled and tenacious interviewer, has found the people who were there and persuaded them to talk.
   And talk with surprising candor. Early in the book he provides a short history of the Senate, because without that you can't appreciate Johnson's achievement...At the center of the book is, of course a figure of almost Shakespearean complexity...Master of the Senate is, as they say, a hard book to put down."
--Fritz Lanham, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, April 30, 2002

"Master of Manipulation or a Merciful Master?"
"In terms of political biography, not only does it not get better than this, it can't. Master of the Senate,...and its two preceding volumes are the highest expression of biography as art. The level of detail is staggering...Caro's command of his material is absolute, and he can make almost any part of Johnson's story as absorbing as an epic movie..."
--Patrick Beach, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, April 21, 2002

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