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Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: Means of Ascent

Despite my misgivings, I checked out Means of Ascent when I saw that my library had it in ebook format with zero wait time. The follow-on to The Path to Power, this book focuses mostly on Lyndon Johnson's 1948 election race for the senate against Coke Stevenson. Caro says in an afterword that his views on Stevenson changed dramatically while researching the book: history having been written by the victors, Lyndon Johnson's supporters had done  a good job smearing Stevenson.

Which is not to say that Stevenson wasn't a conservative, but then again, Lyndon Johnson not only wasn't a liberal, he prided himself on being "practical", of having no principles other than the need to have power over other men, by whatever means necessary. The tactics and strategies used to attempt to win/steal elections described in The Path to Power again show up in this book, complete with a blow by blow description of the people involved, and the dispute in courts that ended up being in ruled in favor for Johnson not by force of evidence, but by shrewd application of law in a system by a man willing to bet it all and who happened to have in his employment brilliant lawyers.

The WWII parts of the book are short, skipping over most of the war in favor of following Johnson with a close lens, though there's an interesting section about Johnson's use of political power to acquire a radio station that generated wealth for him and his wife.

As a book, this book has several flaws, chiefest of which is that unlike a best-selling novelist Caro does not assume you've read the previous book before reading this one, which means that the book is chock full of repetitive information that in many cases read like they were lifted entirely wholesale from The Path to Power. That's OK if you're reading this book and the previous one years apart, but not so much fun if you're reading them back to back.

From the historical perspective, this book is good in that it documents the switch to modern campaigning and how elections were stolen. As a middle book in Robert A Caro's series however, it's probably something that you can skip in favor of the next book in the series.

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