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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: The Path to Power

I picked out The Path to Power  on Audible because it seemed like the perfect book to use the audiobook treatment on: it was non-fiction, had an interesting topic I didn't know much about, and Robert Caro's On Power had intrigued me, especially the part about rural electrification.

Wow, when people talk about detail, this book has it. I expected it to be a straightforward biography about Lyndon Johnson, but instead, it meandered left and right (politically and metaphorically), discussing his time as well as introducing several political figures of the period that were lesser known to me, like Sam Rayburn.

The description of the political environment was also critical, as it explains how then (as it is now), the Democrats have always been short of money, and the money has always been on the side of the Republican party.

In terms of coverage of Lyndon Johnson, it's extensive and described how he wasn't much of a new dealer, despite his successful attempts to ride on the coat-tails of the very popular Franklin D. Roosevelt. The section on what it took for Johnson to get elected as a Congressional representative was evocative and descriptive: in many cases he traveled to distant farms and villages to make his case, and that was the difference between him and other candidates.

The book spent a lot of time discussing how Johnson became a "professional son", flattering and ingratiating himself to older men with power, as well as how he came to wield power himself, not through electoral popularity, but by being willing funnel public work projects to contractors he favored and then accepting political donations from them. He even got Roosevelt to help cover up these illegal campaign contributions when the contractor (Brown and Root) was investigated by the IRS. The description of the senatorial campaign of 1941 was also impressive, with Caro discussing which districts had votes that could be bought, and how Johnson lost because he made the mistake of letting his bought votes be called in first, as well as how radio and newspapers were used in the campaign.

Of course, the book also describes his affair with Alice Glass and his poor treatment of his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, again, with chapter long digressions into providing thorough biographies of both women.

The book deserves its Pulitzer prize, but imagine my dismay when I discovered that it's part of a 5-book series, and that Caro is still several years from finishing the series, despite projecting that it would be done in 2013! I've checked out the next book in the series from the library, but I'm not sure I'll get around to finishing that! Nevertheless, the book is recommended.

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