May 10, 2017

When will Robert A. Caro finish the final volume of his biography of LBJ?

He doesn't "like to give progress reports to be perfectly honest with you... It’s already long. But it’s not nearly done and I’m sort of buried in doing it at the moment," but he did take a break to record an audiobook called "On Power." Basically, he's reading a transcript of 2 speeches he'd done recently.

At the link there's an incredibly interesting, articulate clip from the book, explaining how Caro got interested in delving into the story of Robert Moses (whom he wrote a great long book about, "The Power Broker").

You can buy the recording of "On Power" here, on Amazon. I just did.

Also at the first link, an interview with Caro. From the interview:
[Y]ou know, someone else records my books; an actor with a better voice. 
Yeah, I know, I love that guy. Grover Gardner. I started listening to Caro's LBJ books because they were read by Grover Gardner, whom I'd listened to — it took me all summer one year — reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."
I have a New York accent, of course, but Audible wanted me to read it myself, which I did. And I’m happy with the way that it came out....
[W]hat I explore in On Power is that power reveals when someone is climbing to get power and he has to conceal what he wants to do because if people knew it they may not want to give it to him. Then once they get power they do what they want, and then you see, like in the case of Lyndon Johnson, in the episode that’s in the audiobook, as soon as he is elected to congress he transforms the lives of his constituents for the better. That’s two hundred thousand people in the Texas Hill Country. By using the power of the New Deal Rural Electrification Act to transform their lives, via an act of real political genius, he made a huge impact. But he couldn’t have said that’s what he planned to do in his campaign. But he remembered his mother having to pull water up from their well, and how hard it was, and how hard she worked, and he swore then that if he ever got the power to change things that he would. So he got power as a young congressman, 29 years old, and he immediately set out to do that and succeeded....

There’s an anecdote about Lyndon Johnson toward the end of On Power, where he wanted to get Kennedy’s civil rights legislation passed, but he knew there was a tax bill holding it up on the floor of the Senate. He needed three votes, but he was told he couldn’t get them. But after three phone calls, he got all three. That’s not just power from control or fear, but knowing what buttons to push and having remarkable political skill....


Michael K said...

I read the first two volumes and bogged down. I'm finding that audio books on my commute to Phoenix are working pretty well. Maybe I'll get the audio versions.

Dave from Minnesota said...

I stopped at a local Barnes and Noble yesterday. First time I have looked at books in a very long time. Holy smokes there are a lot of new good books (I skimmed through a few).

Dinner with Joe Dimaggio. A Dr befriended him later in his life. A couple of great stories on how much Dimaggio hated Bill Clinton and blew him off in public.

Janesville, An American Story. Not really a feel good book, but I may pick it up. I skimmed through the section on the Walker recall. I sense the author is pretty liberal, but some of the Democrats of Janesville come across as kind of jerks.

Shattered of course.

A new book on the Beatles. Kind of like a series of essays. interesting chapter on Bob Dylan. Seems there was a bit of a rivalry around 1966.

I went to get Cardiac Arrest though, but B&N is not carrying it. Odd since its a Twin Cities story. May have to go to the Althouse Amazon portal.

David53 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David53 said...

Now days whenever I read about LBJ my mind immediately turns to The Duke of Duval County, George Berham Parr. What would have happened to LBJ without him?

Sebastian said...

"via an act of real political genius" He discovered how to use other people's money. Genius!

I wonder if Caro is writing the biggest biography of all time. Too bad that it has to be about a monster--and that no one, besides the discerning readers on this blog, will learn a damn thing from it about preventing further monstrosity.

Michael McClain said...

I've read the first two. I have the third, but I've not yet read it. They were both amazing reads. As a Goldwater Texan, I find LBJ both fascinating and maddening.

Michael K said...

"I went to get Cardiac Arrest though, but B&N is not carrying it."

I have the Kindle version.

Mad Dog said...

All the previous volumes are fascinating, as is The Power Broker. I sort of forgot he has been working on the final volume. Hope he finishes it -- he is 81! Thanks for the update.

St. George said...

In the second volume, there is an *incredible* story about Johnson being investigated by the Senate and LIFE Magazine immediately before Kennedy's death.

JFK and the Kennedys had long loathed Johnson. Rumors were afoot he was going to be replaced. In fact, that is supposedly part of the reason Connally was riding with JFK, because his popularity with Texans made him the perfect man to replace Johnson. And Johnson knew it.

In the week or so before the assassination a small Senate committee had held one or two meetings to discuss bringing charges against LBJ regarding his corrupt activities. To top it off, the week before Kennedy was killed, LIFE ran a feature discussing the allegations against Johnson.

Part two of the LIFE story was to have run in the last week in November, and the committee had meetings scheduled for later in 1963.

Of course, with Kennedy's death, LIFE killed the second article, and the committee never met again.

janetrae said...

I feel sorry for Caro who has devoted his professional life to writing about man he despises and hates (and I get tired of reading that throughout the LBJ biography). Master of the Senate was amazing, and the Passage of Power (about the Kennedy assassination from LBJ's point of view) and the first 100 days of his presidency) was gripping. Can't wait until Caro gets it over with.

William said...

When Caro began his books, he was writing about a different LBJ. At that time LBJ was known and hated principally for the way he got us involved in Vietnam. Since then, LBJ's reputation has gone up a couple of notches. The left, anyway, gives him credit for Medicare and the civil rights bill. What matter inflation, burning cuties and a disastrous war if you're in the left's side on those key issues. LBJ will probably by played by Tom Hanks in the movie version.

Ken B said...

Coincidentally I just bought the Audible version of the Moses book, so I am pleased to hear the reader is good.

Ann Althouse said...

There's a harshness to Gardner's voice that's not my favorite thing but it's fitting for political stories that neec to make us feel outrage.

I prefer a gentler voice, but Gardner is appropriate for Hitler and LBJ.

Ann Althouse said...


David Begley said...

Trump is the new LBJ. Just watch him work the Senate on healthcare, tax reform and infrastructure.

tcrosse said...

LBJ will probably by played by Tom Hanks in the movie version.

LBJ has been played by the great Michael Gambon in a TVer called Path to War (2002).

Michael K said...

" Just watch him work the Senate on healthcare, tax reform and infrastructure."

I hope so, He has to get this done before the 2018 election to keep the House.

Too bad the NeverTrumpers seem to be determined to lose the majority.

rcocean said...

"a harshness to Gardner's voice"

I haven't noticed that, I like his voice. He did Shelby Foote's "Civil War" trilogy - I could only have gotten through that with a voice I liked.

Southerner's complained he was too "Yankee" but that's what happens when you lose a war.

wildswan said...

I like Caro's books because they give you a sense of the time and a lot of that time was my time. I can see clearly that I did not "know" what was happening if by "know" is meant "understand why" AND "see the consequences". But I'm so mainstream that I knew exactly what the common objects of political discussion were and saw them in the common way that led most politicians to take the actions they took back then and most voters to vote the way they did. For instance, I knew LBJ was accused of vote stealing and some would not forgive him for that but to me, passing the Civil Right Act was what mattered. But Caro explains that the vote stealing signified the rise of the Johnson-type politician which is why some never forgave him for his type of corruption even when he passed the civil rights legislation. Johnson epitomized a new type of politician but I just thought the Johnson type was the eternal type. But there was another type before him (and another type began in the the Nineties when American corruption globalized along with everything else and the Clintons sold out to foreigners - and now another type of politician is trying to regain our country from the foreign bondholders.)

You never know what you will end up thinking when you pour your mind, full as it is with all of now, through the filter of a book from the past or about the past.

TML said...

NO E-BOOK OF "THE POWER BROKER" AND THE AUDIOBOOK IS $71.95!!!!! What the heck is that all about?!

John said...

I first learned about robert caro listening to the power broker on tape in the late 80s.

Then listened to the first 2 lbj volumes on tape. I don't remember if grover gardner read them or someone else.

Books On Tape used to have an anazing catalog. When Audible bought them they seem to have trashed much of it.

I do remember Gardner from several BOT books.

Never did care for Audible. The format sucks as it is difficult to keep track of where I am. Also the readers seem toact out the books rather than reading them.

I recommend the audio equivalent of

John Henry

John said...


didn't realize the power broker was no available as an ebook. There are a number of books I'd like to read that are not and it really pisses me off.

John Henry

Michael K said...

"didn't realize the power broker was no available as an ebook."

It's featured on Audible as an audio book.

John said...

There's no excuse whatever for any book not being available in e format

John Henry

Michael K said...

" THE AUDIOBOOK IS $71.95!!!!! "

No wonder it's featured.

Michael K said...

I'm working on a Kindle version of my medical history book, which has been out 15 years.

It is a pain because I can't find the Word files. Amazon only wants Word files.

All I have are pdf files of chapters and they have to be done as one long file in Word.

Anonymous said...

I have only read Means of Ascent of Caro's books and I think its a stand alone classic. What I took away from that book was that LBJ (very similar to WJ Clinton) had made a decision/realization at a very young age that he not only very much to be POTUS, he had to be the president on some deep emotional level. So from that point onward everything he said or did was a political calculation to acquire and maintain more power. Once someone like this becomes president, he has likely compromised any ideals or principles he might have started out with. And therefore will do little or nothing as president based on principle, as its all politics all the time.

Being an unprincipled full time political animal sets you up for for epic failure. For instance, because LBJ didn't meaningfully participate in WW II,and properly learn the harsh lessons of war, and instead gamed his service in the military for maximum political gain at minimal physical risk, when it came time to be a war leader, Johnson made terrible decisions and got thousands of our guys killed or captured- for nothing.

glenn said...

The three phone calls went something like " You know that Secretary/12 year old boy/girl/goat/sheep you were blanking. We have pictures. Vote the bill or your wife gets them" That's politics in the good ol USA.

John said...


I can convert the pdf for you. Drop me a note at

John Henry

William Chadwick said...

He might finish it when he stops finding evil things about LBJ. Which may mean he could never finish it.

Ken B said...

The Moses book can be had for 1 book credit at Audible, which can in turn be had for 15 bucks if you join a monthly subscription.

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