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

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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

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