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Thursday, May 03, 2012  

Power, Hidden and Revealed

My review of the fourth volume in Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson is online at the Washington Monthly:

There is, to put it simply, no one who writes modern American biography like Robert Caro (the closest analogue I know is the late T. Harry Williams, whose definitive biography of Huey Long is the only book I’ve read that bears comparing with Caro’s finest work). His books are researched with a detail that goes beyond meticulous. He recounts opening letters so long unread that they crumbled in his hands. He tracked down the forgotten people displaced by Robert Moses’ highway projects, slept out for days in Johnson’s Hill Country to get a feel for its isolation, found new, explosive details of the 1948 election forty years after it took place. They are sweeping social panoramas and chamber dramas, driven by decades-long historical developments and by individual character. They are operatic, tending toward brisk recitative passages of plot punctuated by grand arias of theme, written in a slightly anachronistic high style but tempered with a fiercely democratic moral grounding. Part muckraker, part bard, Caro has been guided by the intuition he felt in his study of Robert Moses, that Moses “could be a vessel for something even more significant: an examination of the essential nature—the most fundamental realities—of political power.”

Read the whole thing. I said a lot about Caro and Johnson, but I could have said a lot more. This book is magnificent.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 7:15 AM
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