Volume III of Caro’s ongoing life of LBJ, taking in the period from 1949 until Johnson’s ascension to the vice presidency under John F. Kennedy in 1960.
An unintended rebuke to the quickie, borrowed histories that have been capturing the news of late, Caro’s latest volume took a dozen years to research and write, and the effort shows on every page; if anything, it can be faulted only for its overflowing surfeit of detail, which includes everything from the down-to-the-last-drop contents of a Texas oil pipeline to the layout of Capitol offices. The third installment is full of drama, if it is sometimes buried in all that information, as Caro charts Johnson’s rise from obscure junior senator to leader of the majority party, red-baiting, arm-twisting, blustering, and deal-making all the while. Most dramatic of all is its carefully developed central episode, the passage of civil-rights legislation that Johnson initially opposed but, in a sea change of character, eventually adopted as his own.
Magisterial, exhaustive, and highly literate, a Plutarch (or perhaps Suetonius) for our time: would that all political biographies were so good.