Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2

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Overview

MEANS OF ASCENT is the second book in the LBJ trilogy. It carries Johnson from his 1941 Senate defeat through WW II and on to the securing of his fortunes, both economic and political.

Caro tells this story with an eye for detail. He focuses not only on Johnson, but on Johnson's "unbeatable" opponent, former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. As the political duel between the two men quickens, it moves with all the drama of the perfect Western. Caro has us witness a momentous ...

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Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2

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Overview

MEANS OF ASCENT is the second book in the LBJ trilogy. It carries Johnson from his 1941 Senate defeat through WW II and on to the securing of his fortunes, both economic and political.

Caro tells this story with an eye for detail. He focuses not only on Johnson, but on Johnson's "unbeatable" opponent, former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. As the political duel between the two men quickens, it moves with all the drama of the perfect Western. Caro has us witness a momentous turning point in American politics: the tragic last stand of politics of issue versus politics of image.

"One of the most important political biographies of our time...the picture of a man on his way up, regardless." (B-O-T Editorial Review Board)

This book chronicles Johnson from his 1st Senate campaign defeat, through WWII, to his narrow 87-vote in the fiercely contested 1948 Senate campaign.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Caro's scathing biography portrays Johnson as ruthless in his pursuit of power. This second installment in a projected series of four covers his life from 1941 to 1948 and ends with his winning the Texas Democratic senatorial primary by a scant and suspicious 87 votes. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Thrilling. Caro burns into the reader's imagination the story of the [1948 Senate] election. Never has it been told so dramatically, with breathtaking detail piled on incredible development . . . In The Path to Power, Volume I of his monumental biography, Robert A. Caro ignited a blowtorch whose bright flame illuminated Johnson's early career. In Means of Ascent he intensifies the flame to a brilliant blue point." —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

"Brilliant. No brief review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born." —Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University

"Riveting . . . Explosive . . . Readers are in for a white-knuckle, hair-raising tale that could have ended in any of a dozen ways, with L.B.J. in the White House the longest shot of all. This is good history. Caro's treatment achieves poetic intensity." —Paul Gray, Time

"Caro has a unique place among American political biographers. He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured. Caro's diligence [and] ambition are phenomenal . . . A remarkable story . . . Epic." —Mark Feeney, Boston Sunday Globe

"Immensely engaging . . . Caro is an indefatigable investigative reporter and a skillful historian who can make the most abstract material come vibrantly to life. [He has a] marvelous ability to tell a story . . . His analysis of how power is used—-to build highways and dams, to win elections, to get rich—-is masterly." —Ronald Steel, New York Times Book Review

"Caro has changed the art of political biography." —Nicholas von Hoffman

"A spellbinding, hypnotic journey into the political life and times of Lyndon Johnson. Riveting drama." —Jim Finley, Los Angeles Times

"The most compelling study of American political power and corruption since Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.... It is nothing less than a political epic, the definitive account of a watershed election, rich with all of the intrigue and drama that have become the stuff of legend. [It has] the suspense of a political thriller." —Steve Neal, Fort Worth Star Telegram

"Magnificent . . . Thunder and lightning rip through Mr. Caro's viscerally compelling work."  —Thomas W. Hazlett, The Wall Street Journal

"His research is dazzlingly exhaustive, his gripping story is enhanced by excellent writing, and his findings [seem] largely irrefutable. No one has done a better job of researching [the 1948 race] than Mr. Caro. He has produced a portrait not only of Lyndon Johnson, but also of the politics and values of mid-century America." —Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News

"Robert Caro gives us an LBJ who was human and then some, and what's enthralling is how this lucid, fascinating book keeps forcing us to confront the extreme contradictions of what (on good days) we call human nature. It's a testament to Robert Caro's skill that we find it so difficult to get a firm moral fix on Johnson. Caro is that rare biographer who seems intrigued by his subject but happily free from the urge to either heroicize, psychologize—or excoriate and punish." —Francine Prose, 7 Days

"Means of Ascent is a political biography, a detective story, a western and a character study. Above all, it is a richly textured, multilayered chronicle of a fundamental social and political change and how this change highlighted elements of Mr. Johnson's character: his powerful needs, tremendous ambition and particular genius." —Robert A. Kronley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"One can trust every detail. The sagaciousness and discretion of Caro's investigations are obvious from the start. The story of that election has all the excitement of a murder mystery in which the culprit is known, but the question is whether justice will triumph. Caro tells it with the same thriller instinct as the old novelists, yet with the passion for accuracy of the most exacting detective." —Denis Wadley, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune   

"A great book, and I believe the completed biography will be the great book about American politics in the twentieth century. The story of the '48 election is remarkable, unique. If it weren't a cliche, I'd say it has Tolstoyan epic grandeur." —Robert K. Massie

"Caro's writing summons a reviewer's cliches—gripping, compelling, absorbing, irresistible . . . unputdownable. The sentences sparkle. The details pile up in a mountain of evidence . . . Caro has at last set the record straight." —Richard Marius, Harvard Magazine

"A spellbinding political thriller . . . riveting." —Arthur Salm, San Diego Tribune

"Extraordinary and brilliant . . . Devastatingly persuasive . . . Caro's prodigious research, and his discovery of original sources ignored by other biographers, proves beyond doubt that much of what Johnson said about these years was false . . . The spadework combined with Caro's passion makes for drama more riveting than any novel." —Mark A. Gamin, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"We who are alive today are privileged to be present at the creation of what, when it is completed, may rank as the most riveting and disturbing American political biography of this century . . . Magnificently written." —Theodore M. O'Leary, Kansas City Star

"Caro is the premier biographer of our time." —Bernard D. Nossiter, The Progressive

"No one understands Lyndon Baines Johnson without reading Robert A. Caro." —James F. Vesely, Sacramento Union

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394528359
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1990
  • Series: Years of Lyndon Johnson Series , #2
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 607,348
  • Product dimensions: 6.55 (w) x 9.64 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert A. Caro is the author of The Path to Power, Master of the Senate and The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he has won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Francis Parkman Prize (awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that “represents the union of the historian and the artist”), the H.L. Mencken Award, the Carr P. Collins Award from the Texas Institute of Letters and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Mr. Caro was graduated from Princeton University, later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and was for six years an investigative reporter for Newsday. He was born in New York City, where he and his wife, Ina, now live.

Biography

"I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," Robert A. Caro once told Kurt Vonnegut, who interviewed him for Hampton Shorts. What Caro wanted to do instead "was to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times -- particularly political power."

As an idealistic reporter for Newsday on Long Island, the young Robert Caro thought he understood how political power worked. He had written several prize-winning investigative pieces, including a series denouncing a bridge project proposed by public-works developer Robert Moses. When Caro's editor sent him to Albany to lobby against the bridge, he met with legislators and explained why the project was a terrible idea. The legislators agreed with him -- until Moses made his own trip to Albany and changed their minds.

"I remember driving back home that night and thinking that it was really important that we understand this kind of political power, and that if I explained it right -- how Robert Moses got it and what was its nature, and how he used it -- I would be explaining the essential nature of power," Caro told Vonnegut.

Caro left his job at Newsday to write a biography of Moses, a project he estimated would take one year. It took seven. During that time, Caro scraped by on a Carnegie Fellowship and the advance from his publisher -- an amount so small that he and his wife were forced to sell their house to make ends meet. But Caro persevered, constructing his story of back-room politics from scores of interviews and drawers full of old carbon copies. When his editor at Simon & Schuster left, Caro was free to seek a new editor, and a new publisher. Robert Gottlieb at Knopf shepherded The Power Broker into print in 1974. It would eventually be chosen by Modern Library as one of the best 100 books of the 20th century.

Caro then began work on his magnum opus, a projected four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, spending years not only on the research trail but in the Texas hill country where Johnson grew up. The Path to Power, volume one of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, was published in 1982 to thunderous critical acclaim. Means of Ascent appeared in 1990, followed by Master of the Senate in 2002. Each successive volume has sent critics scurrying for new superlatives to describe Caro's "grand and absorbing saga" (Ron Chernow). "[Master of the Senate] reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does," Anthony Lewis wrote in The New York Times Book Review.

Among Caro's fans are a number of politicians, including former Senate majority leader Thomas Daschle. "I think the thing you learn from reading that magnificent book is that every day, this body makes history," he told Roll Call after reading Master of the Senate. Even British politicians are hooked: one member of Parliament considered sending a note urging the author to speed up publication.

But time is an essential ingredient of Caro's work, whether he's wheedling an interview out of Johnson's cardiologist or writing and rewriting his chapters in longhand before banging out the final text on an old Smith-Corona. And he has no intention of expanding his research team of one: his wife, Ina. Readers eager for the final installment of the Johnson saga will simply have to follow Caro's example, and be patient.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 30, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Princeton University, 1957; Nieman Fellow at Harvard University
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 27, 2012

    Caro continues his indepth study of Lyndon Johnson with this vol

    Caro continues his indepth study of Lyndon Johnson with this volume concentrating on the rise of Johnson to national power and eventually, in a later volume, the presidency. What makes the book so useful is the detail about the political process and how it changed with the rise of modern media. In Johnson's case the media was the radio and his remarkable use of it, and the raising the funds needed for the use of modern media, did change electoral politics. The change is well documented by comparing Johnson's opponent in the 1948 Senatorial race, a very honest politician indeed, whose campaign was a traditional political campaign of face-to-face interactions and local party insiders.
    More interesting is how American politics determines winners. To reach the presidency compromises of all types are necessary. Ironically, those most willing to make many of the compromises then govern in ways detrimental to public trust. Johnson, a most Shakespearean type personality, personifies how ambition breeds commitment to acquiring power and how ideals of social change, many of which he pushed in his presidency, are mixed with outright corruption and use of government for personal ends. The results are indeed mixed and sadly demean politics.
    All of this can only be understood through a thorough and carefully constructed biography. Caro has written just such a study. The study is recommended for anyone who wants to better understand politics, their evolution and to improve on his or her ability as a citizen to select the better choice.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2013

    Unbelievable!

    Wow!
    It's taken me a couple of days after finishing this to collect my thoughts and I keep coming back to this: Lyndon Baines Johnson was a narcissist, sociopath, and a consumate liar of a world class variety! I've no doubt that had he not become a politician, he would have become a criminal! (Some say it's the same thing and after reading Caro's recountimg of the 1948 election for the Texas Senate seat, they may be right.) I've necer had a lot of faith or trust in politicians, but this has virtually destroyed what little I had left!
    Like Caro's first book, the writing is sometimes awkward and cumbersome. Most of the time, he's giving a narration, but he'll occasionally break into a more conversational tone. He loves to insert hyphens, semicolons, commas, etc. to make asides which frequently forces you to read around the aside to get the main point.
    All that notwithstanding, if you have any interest in modern political history whatsoever, this book is well worth the investment in time and energy. I'll be reading the 3rd book as soon as I clear my head a little with something else.

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  • Posted July 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Meticulous

    Robert Caro has done it again. This book covers seven years of Lyndon Johnson's life from 1941, from the defeat of his first senate run up to his second run for senate in 1948.

    I have to admit that some of the first part of this book was not as exciting, as the first book as a whole, and justifiably, the author mentions that this book is about the dark side of Lyndon Johnson's life.

    Beyond the first part, the second part of this book picks up with suspense and was quite a pleasure to read.

    Means of Ascent is the second out of, so far, four volumes soon to be five total volumes. Means of Ascent came out 8 years after his first book in 1982 and the amount of time dedicated to it is reflected in the quality of writing in this beautiful piece of literature.

    On a side note, I recommend reading the "Note on Sources" section toward the end of this book. Apparently from the authors writing on Coke Stevenson, skepticism was caused by critics about the credibility of Coke Stevenson from the authors perspective. The author wrote a response as to why he feels his research and writing on Coke Stevenson is justified. (If your book is new enough, hardcover or paperback, the afterword will be in the Note on Sources section).

    On to Volume 3!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2005

    'Landslide Lyndon' Explained

    Volume 1 of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson was magnificent, this Volume 2 continues in its spirit if not scope (returned to in Volume 3). Caro clearly hates Johnson but gives him his due the '48 election campaign was in a sense a microcosm of Johnson's career and Caro tells the story brilliantly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2001

    buy this book

    perfect for a vacation or long train or plane trip - vivid writing you will gorge on and never want to see end. no matter your feelings about L.B.J., this book is worth your time and money. i read it twice.

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