The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991

Book Reviews
NORMAN D. BROWN, Edztor
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. By Robert A. Caro. (New
York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc. 1990o. Pp. xxxiv+50o6. Introduction,
map, bibliography, notes, index, photographs. $24.95.)
The Path to Power, the first volume of Robert A. Caro's biography of
Lyndon Baines Johnson, was an indictment of his subject's personality
and character. In that first study, however, the author gave Johnson
grudging credit for his significant achievements as congressman for the
tenth congressional district of Texas. Caro's second volume, Means of
Ascent, does not offer the reader even minimal balance; it is a relentless
assault upon Lyndon Johnson's character, actions, and motives between
the years of 1941, after his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate,
and 1948, the year of his controversial eighty-seven vote victory over
Governor Coke Stevenson.
Caro's purpose is ambitious: "This biography of Lyndon Johnson is
intended to be a study not merely of his life but of American history
during the years of that life" (p. xxxi). If this is Caro's goal in Means of As-
cent, he has surely failed. Caro not only does not place Lyndon Johnson
in the context of the national history, but he offers virtually no discussion
of the chaotic world of Texas politics. Caro's Lyndon Johnson has no
limitations imposed upon him by the political context in which he oper-
ates. He simply controls events and people around him. What Caro
perceives as Lyndon Johnson's failures are never explained even par-
tially by forces outside of the man himself, but only by his capacity for
deceit, his ruthlessness, and his amorality. When they entered Lyndon
Johnson's magnetic field, otherwise strong, domineering people lost
their free will and became Johnson's "tools." Abe Fortas was his sharp-
est tool, Tommy Corcoran his bluntest tool, and-we learn in the new
volume-Lady Bird Johnson was his most reluctant instrument. But
though he was a charismatic, domineering man, Lyndon Johnson had
no mystical powers. The people who did favors for Johnson received
favors from him. And Lyndon Johnson, like everyone else, was limited
in what he could and could not do by the world around him. Robert
Caro gives no clue that Johnson faced political difficulties arising from

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed July 10, 2014.