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The Path to Power

The Path to Power, Book One, reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and urge to power that set LBJ apart. Chronicling the startling early emergence of Johnson’s political genius, it follows him from his Texas boyhood through the years of the Depression in the Texas hill Country to the triumph of his congressional debut in New Deal Washington, to his heartbreaking defeat in his first race for the Senate, and his attainment, nonetheless, of the national power for which he hungered.
We see in him, from earliest childhood, a fierce, unquenchable necessity to be first, to win, to dominate—coupled with a limitless capacity for hard, unceasing labor in the service of his own ambition. Caro shows us the big, gangling, awkward young Lyndon—raised in one of the country’s most desperately poor and isolated areas, his education mediocre at best, his pride stung by his father’s slide into failure and financial ruin—lunging for success, moving inexorably toward that ultimate “impossible” goal that he sets for himself years before any friend or enemy suspects what it may be.

We watch him, while still at college, instinctively (and ruthlessly) creating the beginnings of the political machine that was to serve him for three decades. We see him employing his extraordinary ability to mesmerize and manipulate powerful older men, to mesmerize (and sometimes almost enslave) useful subordinates. We see him carrying out, before his thirtieth year, his first great political inspiration: tapping—and becoming the political conduit for—the money and influence of the new oil men and contractors who were to grow with him to immense power. We follow, close up, the radical fluctuations of his relationships with the formidable “Mr. Sam” Raybum (who loved him like a son and whom he betrayed) and with FDR himself. And we follow the dramas of his emotional life-the intensities and complications of his relationships with his family, his contemporaries, his girls; his wooing and winning of the shy Lady Bird; his secret love affair, over many years, with the mistress of one of his most ardent and generous supporters…

Johnson driving his people to the point of exhausted tears, equally merciless with himself . . . Johnson bullying, cajoling, lying, yet inspiring an amazing loyalty . . . Johnson maneuvering to dethrone the unassailable old Jack Garner (then Vice President of the United States) as the New Deal’s “connection” in Texas, and seize the power himself . . . Johnson raging . . . Johnson hugging . . . Johnson bringing light and, indeed, life to the worn Hill Country farmers and their old-at-thirty wives via the district’s first electric lines.
We see him at once unscrupulous, admirable, treacherous, devoted. And we see the country that bred him: the harshness and “nauseating loneliness” of the rural life; the tragic panorama of the Depression; the sudden glow of hope at the dawn of the Age of Roosevelt. And always, in the foreground, on the move, LBJ.
Here is Lyndon Johnson—his Texas, his Washington, his America—in a book that brings us as close as we have ever been to a true perception of political genius and the American political process.

The Years of Lyndon Johnson is the political biography of our time. No president—no era of American politics—has been so intensively and sharply examined at a time when so many prime witnesses to hitherto untold or misinterpreted facets of a life, a career, and a period of history could still be persuaded to speak.


Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

Winner of the Washington Monthly Best Political Book Award

Winner of the H.L. Mencken Award

Winner of the Texas Institute of Letters’s Carr P. Collins Award

Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature

Praise for The Path to Power


“Proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually works are—let it be said flat out—at the summit of American historical writing.“


“A monumental political saga…powerful and stirring. It’s an overwhelming experience to read The Path to Power.


“Epic. A brief review cannot convey the depth, range and detail of this fascinating story. Caro is a meticulous historian. Every page reflects his herculean efforts to break through the banalities and the falsehoods previously woven around the life of Lyndon Johnson…combines the social scientist’s interest in power with the historian’s concern with theme and context, the political scientist’s interest in system, and the novelist’s passion to reveal the inner workings of the personality and relate them to great human issues…A monument of interpretive biography.”


“An epic biography…A sweeping, richly detailed portrait…vivid [with] Caro’s astonishing concern for the humanity of his characters. An awesome achievement.”


“An ineradicable likeness of an American giant. Caro has brought to life a young man so believable and unforgettable that we can hear his heartbeat and touch him. If an earlier famous Johnson had his Boswell, and Abraham Lincoln his Sandburg, LBJ has found a portraitist who similarly will owe his fame to his great subject and his certitude in taking control of it.”


“By every measure—depth of research, brilliance of conception, the seamless flow of the prose—it is a masterpiece of biography.”


“Extraordinary. A powerful, absorbing, at times awe-inspiring, and often deeply alarming story. A vivid picture of the emergence of one of this century’s authentically great politicians.”

Buoyed by the success of The Power Broker, Caro resolved to investigate power at the highest level. His new subject was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the consummate political operator. By the time Caro began his research, Johnson had died but there were abundant resources to be tapped, from the enormous presidential archive at the University of Texas to the hundreds of people who had known and worked with him.


Exploring Power


Photo from People magazine

Numerous biographies of Johnson had been written, but Caro came to feel that none of them adequately explored the place that formed him: the place in which he had been born and raised, the remote, isolated Texas Hill Country. To immerse himself in Johnson’s world, he and his wife, Ina, the only researcher he ever trusted to assist him in his work, moved to the edge of the Hill Country, slept out in sleeping bags, and interviewed scores of men and women who knew the young LBJ. Caro’s ability to convey the lived experiences of his protagonists would become his trademark and one of the reasons for the enormous popularity of his books. In the case of Johnson, it meant recreating his upbringing and family life, schooling and early ambitions, and temperament and personality. The Johnson who begins to emerge in The Path to Power is driven not only by naked, ruthless ambition, but by compassion, a burning desire to help his impoverished and isolated constituents.

Photo from People magazine: Ina and Bob Caro with Ava Cox, Lyndon’s favorite cousin, in the Texas Hill Country

Below are selections from the Robert A. Caro Archive, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, New-York Historical Society.

Path to Power Galley Proof with Edits, ca 1980


Newsday’s Feature on Robert Caro and The Path to Power

The profile begins, “When, two years out of college, Robert A Caro came to Newday in 1959, he wore his ambition like a crown.‘He was intense, tremendously goal-oriented, pegging to be No. 1,’ an editor recalls…Caro, 47, is still intense, goal-oriented and pegging to be No. 1. This time, he is doing it with a monumental three-volume biography, The Years of Lyndon Johnson.’“

Cover of the December 1982 Book-of-the-Month Club News


A Letter From the Book-of-the-Month Club’s Chairman of the Board Urging Members to Read The Path to Power

For the more one learns—from his family, his childhood playmates, his college classmates, his first assistants, his congressional colleagues—about Lyndon Johnson, the more it becomes apparent not only that this hunger [for power] was a constant throughout his life but that it was a hunger so fierce and consuming that no consideration of morality or ethics, no cost to himself—or to anyone else—could stand before it.


The Years of Lyndon Johnson Videos

Robert Caro Books

Caro must be America’s greatest living Presidential biographer . . . He entrances us with both his words and his research