The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984 Page: 58
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Robert Caro's book burst upon the field of Johnson biography last
year with high praise from its author and its initial critics. His fresh
interviews, Caro asserted, had "helped form a portrait of Lyndon
Johnson substantially different from all previous portraits." Many of
the people he had talked to, he told the press, "have written or called
to say somebody finally told it the way it was." Reviewers labeled the
book "a magnificent piece of work" and said that "a masterpiece of
biography is being added to American literature."2
Other appraisals were less kind. David Herbert Donald in The New
York Times Book Review described it as "intelligent, engrossing, re-
vealing," but also "far too long, repetitive, and fiercely polemical." For
Robert Sherrill, The Years of Lyndon Johnson "is a passionate work.
And the main passion is hatred." Both Donald and Sherrill also
pointed out inconsistencies and contradictions in Caro's account.3
Despite these and other criticisms, Caro's book has sold very well, has
won several literary awards, and was a strong candidate for a Pulitzer
Prize in biography. Friends and associates of Johnson have, in the face
of the book's popular success, even contemplated a critical campaign
against the volume.4
In fact, The Years of Lyndon Johnson is not a definitive historical
verdict on his life and presidency. It is a transitional study, as scholar-
ship on the president moves from the passions that his life aroused
to the more measured appraisal of the academic community. Caro
joins Alfred Steinberg's Sam Johnson's Boy and Ronnie Dugger's The
Politician as a journalistic assessment of Johnson's political appren-
ticeship.5 Its foundation in the interviewing techniques and vigorous
2Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, 776 (ist quotation); Austin American Statesman,
Dec. 6, 1982 (2nd quotation); Dallas Tzmes-Herald, Dec. g9, 1982 (3rd quotation);
Youngstown [Ohio] Vindicator, Dec. 5, 1982 (4th quotation). For other favorable evalua-
tions, see Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Dec. 20, 1982, and Newsweek, Nov. 29, 1982,
3David Herbert Donald, "Up fron Texas," The New York Times Book Review, Nov.
21, 1982, p. 1 (1st quotation); Robcet Sherrill, Book World, Nov. 21, 1982, p. 1 (2nd
quotation). For other critical and perceptive analyses, see Paul Burka, "A Monumental
Man," Texas Monthly, Jan., 1983, pp. 124-129; Godfrey Hodgson, "The Most American
President," The New Republic, Feb. 7, 1983, PP. 29-32; Murray Kempton, "The Great
Lobbyist," The New York Review of Books, Feb. 17, 1983, pp. 25-31. The most negative
critique of Caro's work Is by Jonathan Yardley, Austin Amemican Statesman, Dec. 19, 1982.
4Austin American Statesman, Jan. 11, 1983. Marianne Means, "LBJ's Friends Map War
on Caro Book," Austin Ameican Statesman, Mar. ii, 1983; Douglas Cater, "Waiting
for Caro," Washington Post, Mar. 8, 1983. Cater makes some salient criticisms of Caro's
interviewing techniques and raises questions about his use of oral history interview
transcripts in the LBJ Library.
5Alfred Steinberg, Sam Johnson's Boy: A Close-Up of the President from Texas (New
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984, periodical, 1983/1984; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/m1/78/: accessed October 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.