Political Animal


May 03, 2012 8:53 AM Politics, Power and Publishing

By Ed Kilgore

The appearance of the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson saga, titled The Passage of Power, is quite an event, as indicated by the fact that one of LBJ’s successors in the White House, Bill Clinton, penned a review of the book for the New York Times yesterday.

Today the Washington Monthly is pround to feature a review of The Passage of Power by Benjamin Dueholm that gives both the subject and its author the thorough consideration they deserve. He explains this volume in the context of Caro’s earlier books on LBJ and on Robert Moses, but also in the evolution of popular history and publishing. To put it simply, Dueholm thinks we probably won’t see anything quite like Caro’s meticulous, distinguished, but less than commercially sensational work, in the future.

Dueholm also uses Caro’s portrait of LBJ to examine a more contemporary topic: frequent liberal assessments of Barack Obama as lacking his predecessor’s tenacity, powers of persuasion, or legislative skills—in a word, his “cunning.” Even if you’ve already snared a copy of Caro’s book and devoured it, or have read other reviews, you owe it to yourself to read Dueholm’s if only for that discussion.

And if you haven’t read The Passage of Power, perhaps the review will convince you, like it has me, to make the investment in time and money, beginning this weekend. Enjoy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Snow on May 03, 2012 9:33 AM:

    "Master of the Senate," according to Bookscan, sold 150K copies in hardcover, which is probably at least 250K net, plus 62K in paperback, which probably means 100K. So they are definitely viable. His books all backlist extremely well, which is the key to a good publishing program. Plus having him on your list is a great advertisement to other writers. Finally, you have to remember the LBJ bios were supposed to be a three-book series published far quickly. For someone of Caro's stature, publishers will always take a chance.

  • Ron Byers on May 03, 2012 9:52 AM:


    Has anybody in the industry considered the impact of the Kindle and Nook on publishing metrics? I have been very impressed with the current generation of Nook tablets. Since I bought mine in early March I have purchased and read 21 books. I haven't paid more than $12 for any of them. Think of all the trees I have saved, but also think all the people in the publishing houses that will lose their jobs as paper books become historical artifacts.

    I think Caro's book will be my next download. Maybe I will read the entire series. The cost will be less than one of the hardbacks.

  • DAY on May 03, 2012 9:58 AM:

    Most excellent revue!
    Books as wheel chocks, indeed.
    I to, as I read the review, was struck by the filmic possibilities of the whole sweep of the Johnson Saga. A five part HBO series would draw the audience the author and his lifetime dedication deserve.
    Because, sadly, out attention span to the written word has sunk to 140 characters.

    @Ron Byers:
    The cost is irrelevant, compared to the time required to read a "War and Peace". Today there is too much 'pop culture' competition for our attention. Just look at the superficialities of the presidential campaign!

  • jim filyaw on May 03, 2012 10:04 AM:

    more and more i've come to this conclusion. the great bane of late 20th century liberalism was less the gipper than it was the camelot delusion. jfk was no less a mirage than king arthur. yet, we persisted in seeing him as a tragic hero, usurped by lbj. we've been blind to the fact that ivy league narcissism and arrogance was and is as silly and self-defeating as any tea-bagger's dream. while we've wallowed in nostalgia for something that never was, the real monuments to progress left us by the decidedly non-u lyndon have become increasingly imperiled. i only hope we snap out of it before its too late.

  • berttheclock on May 03, 2012 10:07 AM:

    @Ron Byers, but, sad to say the loss of many excellent places of civility, namely, book stores. Ever spend a day perusing Powell's in Portland? Or, the lovely Elliot Bay book store in Pioneer Square, where, on weekends, they would have live classical music? Elliot Bay has moved up to Capitol Hill, but, not the same atmosphere. Sadly, book stores are closing across the nation.

  • Ron Byers on May 03, 2012 10:16 AM:

    berttheclock, Sadly you are right. When we visit a new town my wife and I will often try to find a local restaurant and a local bookstore. You learn a lot about a community in the local bookstore. Sadly they are nearly out of existance, replaced by chains, which are being replaced by the internet, Nooks, Ipads, and Kindles.

    I guess the next Moores cycle, our Ipads will be replaced by contact lenses and the cloud, and we will be well on our way to totally losing contact with each other.

  • hornblower on May 03, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Mr. Caro is finally finished or is he. I have read his earlier LBJ works and even the fascinating Robert Moses biography. He is a bit disapproving but the such characters as Pappy" Pass the Biscuits" O' Daniel are priceless.

  • Dredd on May 03, 2012 11:09 AM:

    LBJ was a very interesting president. He chose not to run for re-election, which is quite extraordinary.

    An interesting thing about presidents, who have held office since LBJ, was mentioned last night on Rachel Maddow.

    They take marching orders from surprising sources since the "fall" of the Soviet Empire.

  • c u n d gulag on May 03, 2012 12:13 PM:

    I still don't have a job or health insurance, so I won't be able to read Caro's work until I do.

    Hernia's run in my family. :-)

  • marty on May 03, 2012 12:33 PM:

    If you have ANY interest at all...ANY - in intelligent and interesting writing that is all too rare nowadays, read any of Car's books.

    I read "The Power Broker" years ago - a book about Robert Moses? How could that be interesting? Well, it's one of the very best books I have ever read and absolutely fascinating.

    I've read the other LBJ books and will read this one too - Caro is a national treasure and any of his books are well worth a reader's time.....especially a younger one.

    I cannot recommend these books more strongly

  • gus on May 03, 2012 2:45 PM:

    "LBJ was a very interesting president. “
    He was one of a kind, wasn’t he?