The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro

To describe a political biography as reading like a Western may seem to be pushing it a bit. But that is as close to a description of Robert Caro’s mesmeric biography of Lyndon Johnson as I can get.

I first discovered it quite by chance. My wife and I had swapped houses with Robert Caro, whom we did not know. We had brought our own reading lists with us and had not the slightest intention of spending our holiday on New York’s Long Island reading about Lyndon Johnson. But the first volume of the biography had just been published and his house was strewn with copies. We picked them up and just couldn’t put them down.

Johnson was a remarkable man, full of paradoxes and truly deserving of that over-applied cliché, larger than life. Coming from a family that had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, and in his early career a bastion of the Old South which resisted every move towards civil rights for black Americans, it fell to him, as president, to put forward the most significant piece of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history.

A politician preoccupied for the whole of his career with domestic issues, he was finally undone by the Vietnam War.

The story of his life is intertwined with the history of the United States in the first seven decades of the 20th century. It really is a riveting read.

Tags: Issue 33, Lyndon Johnson, Michael Howard, My old book, Robert Caro, Vietnam