Monday, August 23, 2004

LBJ Goes for Broke

LBJ Goes for Broke. Smithsonian magazine offers excerpt from Caro's Master of the Senate book. Chronicles Johnson's 1957 attempt to pass the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.

From the site:

"I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me, I know where to look for it and how to use it," said Senator Lyndon Johnson, the Majority Leader. In Robert Caro's new book, Master of the Senate—the third in his four-volume study of the 36th President—the author charts Johnson's masterful exercise of power.

"My books are not biographies of famous men but are about political power, the power that affects all our lives," says Caro, whose The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1975. "In the new book, I had to find out where LBJ found power in the Senate and how he used it to transform that hidebound body."

Caro (and his one-person research staff, Ina, his wife of 44 years—an author herself) has devoted more than 25 years to Johnson, 12 to the latest volume alone. He interviewed 260 people, sorted through 2,082 boxes of Senate papers and wrote several drafts in longhand before typing others on an old Smith Corona. Caro calls Johnson "the greatest Majority Leader in the history of the Senate. I took the guy who did it best. And studied him."

How does Caro feel personally about his subject? "I don't think I like or dislike him," he says. "But I am in awe of LBJ. Watching him get the 1957 Civil Rights Act through...I am in awe. This is not legislative power, this is legislative genius."

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