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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?