Depth of research and depth of feeling make the difference. This is a great biography not because Caro exposes Lyndon Johnson's ruthlessness, duplicity, and use of money, but because he reveals Johnson's mastery of detail, his impact on other lives, his genius as a hands-on politician. And in that context, Caro's ascription of Johnson's rise to the financial backing of Brown & Root, the Texas contractor, does hot ring wholely true—for at each stage, he demonstrates, Johnson created his own opportunities. The portrait of Johnson's upbringing in Texas' impoverished, isolated Hill Country, and of his boyhood emulation and adolescent rejection of his hero-politician/drunken-failure father, lays the groundwork for Johnson's towering insecurity, his lifelong need to exact "respect—and fear." Rather than go to college as his parents wished, he goes to California (that episode is demythologized); rather than be stuck in Johnson City, he goes to college—where "he began campus politics," started cultivating older men, "stole" his first election, became secretive, and announced (what Caro, ex post facto, perhaps overstresses) his intention to be president. Then, at an Austin high school, he coaches the debating team to the state finals. As the green, 23-year-old secretary to new, playboy congressman Richard Kleberg, he makes a science and an art of answering the mail; as "one of a thousand' congressional aides, he develops the "Little Congress," their organization, as a power base; as a political aspirant, he downplays Kleberg and plays himself up. In a few years, he has entree. And that's why, when a congressional vacancy occurs during his stint as Texas NYA director, he gets key backing for the nomination: someone is needed who (like the deceased) can get a shaky, make-or-break Brown & Root contract cleared. Caro shows Johnson winning that election, vote by vote, "on the forks of the creeks"; persuading rock-bottom Hill Country farmers to enlist in the Agriculture Department's Range Conservation program (and persuading the Department to make it worth their while); bringing electricity to the Hill Country farm wife still "hauling water and hauling wood." If a book so consistently engrossing can be said to peak, it's in the chapters on Johnson as the New Deal's most energetic congressman. But Caro is a believer and Johnson was a trimmer—and so we have the theme of betrayal, the most wrenching of Johnson's iniquities: he betrayed his father by misrepresenting him as a drunken ne'erdo-well; later he would betray his surrogate fathers Sam Rayburn and FDR. There is a serious, hitherto undisclosed romance; there are the promised particulars on Johnson's political legerdemain; there is always the testimony of intimates, and detail upon detail. One is appalled by Johnson—and awed.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 1982

ISBN: 0679729453

Page Count: 953

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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