Summary and book reviews of Master of the Senate by Robert Caro

Master of the Senate

The Years of Lyndon Johnson

By Robert A. Caro

Master of the Senate
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2002,
    1152 pages.
    Paperback: May 2003,
    1152 pages.

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Book Summary

Book Three of Robert A. Caro's monumental work, The Years of Lyndon Johnson---the most admired and riveting political biography of our era---which began with the best-selling and prizewinning The Path to Power and Means of Ascent.

Master of the Senate carries Lyndon Johnson's story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.

It was during these years that all Johnson's experience---from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine---came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term---the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate's hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the "unchangeable" Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.

Caro demonstrates how Johnson's political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust---or at least the cooperation---of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson's ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights. In a breathtaking tour de force, Caro details Johnson's amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.

Master of the Senate is told with an abundance of rich detail that could only have come from Caro's peerless research---years immersed in the worlds of Johnson and the United States Senate, examining thousands of documents and talking to hundreds of people, from pages and cloakroom clerks to senators and administrative aides. The result is both a galvanizing portrait of the man himself---the titan of Capitol Hill, volcanic, mesmerizing---and a definitive and revelatory study of the workings of personal and legislative power. It is a work that displays all the acuteness of understanding and narrative brilliance that led the New York Times to call Caro's The Path to Power "a monumental political saga . . . powerful and stirring."

INTRODUCTION
The Presence of Fire

When you come into the presence of a leader of men, you know you have come into the presence of fire; that it is best not incautiously to touch that man; that there is something that makes it dangerous to cross him.
---Woodrow Wilson

The room on the first floor of the Barbour County Courthouse in the little town of Eufaula, Alabama, was normally the County Clerk's Office, but after it had closed for the day on August 2, 1957, it was being used by the county's Board of Registrars, the body that registered citizens so they could vote in elections---not that the Board was going to register any of the three persons who were applying that day, for the skin of these applicants was black.

It was not a large room, and it was furnished very plainly. Its walls, white and in need of a fresh coat of paint, were adorned only by black-and-white photographs of former county officials. Against the rear wall stood a row of battered old filing ...

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  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2002

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    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2003

Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Ron Chernow
In this magnificent work, Robert Caro has given us the grand and absorbing saga of Lyndon Johnson, the U.S. Senate, and the Democratic Party at mid-century. The richly cadenced prose is hypnotic, the research prodigious, the analysis acute, the mood spellbinding, and the cast of characters mythic in scale. I cannot conceive of a better book about Capitol Hill. An unforgettable, epic achievement in the art of biography.

Author Blurb Jean Strouse
Master of the Senate is vintage Caro--a portrait so deft, vivid, and compelling that you practically feel LBJ gripping your arm and bending you to his will.

The Economist

Mr. Caro drives the story forward irresistibly and makes the arcane almost graphic...If Mr Caro's work on Johnson has not already set a new standard in American political biography, it surely will when his story of Johnson's presidency is complete.

Publishers Weekly

Uniquely mesmerizing.

Booklist - Brad Hopper

Does it live up to the profound success of the earlier volumes? The answer is a resounding yes....The biography of the season.

Chicago Sun-Times - Steve Neal

Probably the best book ever written about the U.S. Senate. A terrific study of power politics.

New York Times Book Review - Anthony Lewis

It will be hard to equal this amazing book....A wonderful, a glorious tale. The book reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and the gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does. I laughed often as I read. And even though I knew what the outcome of a particular episode would be, I followed Caro's account of it with excitement. I went back over chapters to make sure I had not missed a word....Johnson made the impossible happen. Caro's description of how he did it [passed the civil rights legislation] is masterly; I was there and followed the course of the legislation closely, but I did not know the half of it.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Modern Maturity

Breathtaking to read, like spending a week curled up with a magnificent political novel. ...here we get a giant, a colossus who bestrode the U.S. Senate from 1949 until 1961. Caro tells this story as it has never been told before. We see Johnson revealed . . .overpowering everyone around him with the irresistible Johnson treatment.

Newsweek - Malcolm Jones

Mesmerizing...The historian's equivalent of a Mahler symphony--vast, detailed and striving for the universal...Without ever straying from the mountain of facts he's amassed, Caro delivers a tale rife with drama and hypnotic in the telling...[It] brings Lyndon blazing into the Senate.

New Yorker

The most complete portrait of the Senate ever drawn. The work, told within the framework of the life of Lyndon Johnson, is really an epic history of the twentieth century.

Reader Reviews
Mark_Bledsoe

Caro's series just keeps getting better. Shows the good and bad of LBJ, a true political genius, If you are a political junkie, this is the read for you.

Tom Perez-Lopez

Fantastic book! One gets the feeling that there is no other person on Earth who knows Lyndon B. Johnson like Caro does (perhaps better than Johnson did himself), and we are lucky that this knowledgeable person happens to also be one of the greatest ...   Read More

Kikanza Nuri Robins

This is an extraordinary story, wonderfully told. It is not just the story of Lyndon Johnson. It is the story of the civil rights movement in the United States as played out in the senate, and it is the story of the US Senate. Caro is a consummate...   Read More

rtk

Caro's writing is engaging. I have read the series and the portrait of Johnson is spectacular.
The question to be addressed in the next and final book is "Did Johnson or in particular, his
rich cronies in Texas, have anything to do with the ...   Read More

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