Was it ethically acceptable of me to buy Volume I of Robert A Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning 3000-page Lyndon Baines Johnson biography, get bored by page 3, then exchange it for the Justin Timberlake

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
Not all messages are displayed: show all messages (148 of them)

yay! though i'm gonna wait till it comes out in paperback.

kurwa mać (Polish for "long life") (Eisbaer), Saturday, 14 April 2012 17:22 (five years ago) Permalink

that story makes me want to give up on my life so i can become a historian and understand political power

j., Saturday, 14 April 2012 17:40 (five years ago) Permalink

Always wanted to read this and liked how uncompromising he came across but also really offputting how the research and time and willingness to say something in 15 sentences rather than one is put into saying that...power corrupts. Does he really understand political power or is his somewhat romantic conception of it massaged over and over again into 3,000 pages of prose.

Maybe Foucault's ghost could re-write it sometime.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 15 April 2012 09:04 (five years ago) Permalink

in this book johnson is just about exactly as corrupt at age 8 as he is when he's king of the senate, so i don't think that's the moral. plus like the article says half of vol. 2 is about coke stevenson, whom caro (suspiciously, yes) portrays as basically a saint, but a powerful one -- just not as powerful as johnson becomes, probably because the quality that most makes him a saint in caro's eyes is his lack of interest in power. (at the end of the volume, when johnson's successfully stolen the 1948 texas senatorial election from stevenson after a campaign involving helicopters and an insane legal fight that goes on forever, the last we see of stevenson is him standing in a boat drifting down the river on his ranch, opening his arms to embrace the land he owns, a private citizen again, blissful and powerless.) the book's more about where power comes from, both generally and in american republicanism; how you get it; how you hold it; what you can, with sufficient skill and patience, train it to do; the checks and balances both designed and accidental placed on it by various different institutions at various different times; how these are almost all overcome by a guy who Wants To Be President basically from birth and will play totally amoral multi-decade three-dimensional chess to make it happen -- but who is also, despite his lust for ascension and refined talent for manipulation and deceit, driven by a desire to utterly destroy, in america, the poverty he grew up in. he also ends up being the one to finally break jim crow. if the book (so far) has a Theme it's the way johnson's psychopathic power-lust coexists+intertwines with his belief in social justice: dark and light "threads" that both unspool from the same childhood experience of destitute humiliation. if you wanted to get fancy (caro so far thankfully has not) you could say that these same two threads run through america as they run through lbj; run, in both cases, all the way into the vietnamese mud. but you don't need to -- this is just a long story of an interesting guy with a series of interesting jobs.

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 15 April 2012 15:26 (five years ago) Permalink

(if you rolled your eyes at any of that prose you will roll them out of your head within ten pages of caro, but i do that too. it ends up affectionate.)

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 15 April 2012 15:28 (five years ago) Permalink

nah appreciate the explanation and glad that it seems to be going somewhere else than something so simplistic.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 15 April 2012 18:52 (five years ago) Permalink


interesting read from 1999

iatee, Sunday, 15 April 2012 21:26 (five years ago) Permalink

just read that NYTMag piece, I'm amazed he finishes anything.

World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Monday, 16 April 2012 02:28 (five years ago) Permalink

Another Caro profile:


the hairy office thing (Eazy), Monday, 16 April 2012 03:18 (five years ago) Permalink

loled at this exchange:

I had talked to Lyndon's relatives and they said everything [in LBJ's preserved boyhood home] was exactly like it was when they grew up. So I got permission to take Sam Houston in there after hours when it was closed and there were no tourists in there. We went in at about five or six o'clock at night. And I had him sit down at the dining room table. It was a plank table, long and thin, just like the original, and Lyndon's father and mother used to sit in chairs at the two ends. There were two plank benches and the three sisters used to sit on one side, and Sam Houston and Lyndon sat on the other. I had him sit in the place in which he had sat when he was a boy. And then I said to him, "Now I want you to tell me about these terrible fights between your father and Lyndon." I wanted to put him back in his boyhood, to make him remember accurately how things had happened. At first this was very slow going. His memories came back very slowly, and there were long pauses between his sentences. I'd have to ask, "Well, then, what would your father say?" And then, "What would Lyndon say?" But gradually the inhibitions fell away, and it was no longer necessary for me to say anything. He started talking faster and faster. And finally he was shouting back and forth-the father, for example, shouting, "Lyndon, God damn it, you're a failure, you'll be a failure all your life." By this time I felt that he was really in the fame of mind to remember accurately, and I said, "Now, Sam Houston, I want you to tell me all the stories about your brother's boyhood that you told me before, the stories that your brother told all those years, only give me more details." There was this long pause. Then he said, "1 can't." I said, "Why not?" And he said, "Because they never happened." And he started talking and basically told me the story of Johnson's youth that is in my first volume. And after that I went back to the other kids, old people by now but then kids, who had been involved in each incident in college or in California or whatever and when I asked them about the incidents that Sam Houston had related, they would say, "Yes, that is what happened and I remember so and so." Everything was confirmed. So when you ask about Lyndon Johnson, and whether I like him or dislike him, that doesn't even compute in my feeling. I felt I had come to understand him. And, understanding him, I came to feel very sorry for him. He was so ashamed of his background and there was no reason to be. He was so ashamed that he made up a whole myth about his youth.

I was wondering if devoting so much of your life to other people's lives has done anything to your mind?

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Monday, 16 April 2012 07:47 (five years ago) Permalink

That Esquire profile is remarkable.

And I have been called "The Appetite" (DL), Monday, 16 April 2012 10:53 (five years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...


Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 30 April 2012 12:20 (five years ago) Permalink

Chapter 2 - The Rich Man's Son - on Kennedy pretty great. Love how Caro does these little min-biographies on the other major characters in the story.

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. (hugo), Thursday, 3 May 2012 16:06 (five years ago) Permalink

huh, it's coming out a whole month later over here

thomp, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:17 (five years ago) Permalink

i've read none of these books, but i want to

markers, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:18 (five years ago) Permalink

i didn't look at the byline on that nyt thing so i was thinking 'why does this guy think this book review is about him so much' and then i got to

Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States.

thomp, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:20 (five years ago) Permalink

i've been meaning to read these for ages. pre-ordered the new one. figured i care about this stuff more than his stealing his high school elections.

thomp, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:21 (five years ago) Permalink


markers, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:25 (five years ago) Permalink

nah the college years stuff in the 1st one is awesome, he's like scamming highly sought-after campus jobs for his cronies and undermining his enemies in pointlessly spectacular fashion. at a tiny teacher's college in nowhere, texas. good shit.

adam, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:29 (five years ago) Permalink

oh it sounds fascinating! but if i only get around to spending five hours reading one doorstop about lbj i feel like i ought to learn about the civil rights act instead, y'know?

thomp, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:30 (five years ago) Permalink

yeah, the college stuff is great, plus 1 has insane coen-inspiring radio flour salesman and charlatan texas governor pappy o'daniel; it's as good as 3. 2 was kind of a dip for me because the last few hundred pages get very detailed about the blow-by-blow of johnson's 1948 senate election and start really suffering from caro's worst habit, which is that he likes explaining the same thing to you over and over to make sure you haven't forgotten; but the stuff about COKE STEVENSON, AMERICAN ICON is fun. (altho he's cast so flawlessly as mirror-johnson it's kinda suspicious.) third one is :O :O :O all thru tho so yeah if you do only read one -- although it will be full of spoilers! like reading only a storm of swords.

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Friday, 4 May 2012 15:54 (five years ago) Permalink


iatee, Friday, 4 May 2012 15:55 (five years ago) Permalink

WSJ interview.

Just finished the JFK bio in the new one.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 5 May 2012 12:18 (five years ago) Permalink

here's a moving anecdote about young RFK buying drinks at a bar for the football team but infuriated by someone else's birthday party:

...he walked up behind Magnuson and hit him over the head with a beer bottle, sending him to the hospital for stitches. (A few days later Ken O'Donnell apologized to Magnuson; Bobby hadn't come himself, he said, because "it just wasn't his nature to apologize"

or Bobby abandoning a bro who couldn't sail:

The wind was fading, and as lunchtime approached, Kennedy realized that they might not make it ashore in time for lunch. Obsessed with his father's insistence on punctuality, he simply dove overboard and swam for shore, leaving his helpless crewmate to fend for himself. After flailing about, the friend was rescued by a passing boat. Kennedy made no attempt to apologize. Bobby was not a boy at the time The incident occurred in 1948, when he was twenty two years old

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 5 May 2012 13:08 (five years ago) Permalink

Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States.

insufferable "review"

World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Monday, 7 May 2012 11:48 (five years ago) Permalink

I just reached the JFK assassination. Life often plays like a bad movie. Apparently at the same moment the Senate Rules Committee was accepting evidence that LBJ's aide de camp Bobby Baker had accepted bribes and peddled influence.

Lots of lols throughout. I didn't know that if the JFK campaign had been less ruthless LBJ would likely have garnered the nomination in '60. LBJ way with a insult (about JFK: "A little scrawny fella with rickets") glitters throughout.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 12:23 (five years ago) Permalink

pretty much everything i have ever read about RFK, minus apologetic stuff about the '68 campaign, has left me thinking he was a total SOB from day 1.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 7 May 2012 17:19 (five years ago) Permalink

any idea what is the worst thing LBJ said about JFK in public?

World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Monday, 7 May 2012 17:33 (five years ago) Permalink

He called Joe Kennedy a "Neville Chamberlain umbrella type" and a crook (he was right on both counts). That's where Caro and Jeff Shesol say the odium began; RFK never forgave him.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 21:53 (five years ago) Permalink

Caro makes by far the most convincing case for RFK Maturing than any one of the hagiographers I've read. Apparently he really did create a professional, elite Justice Department and did care about the poor.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 21:55 (five years ago) Permalink

i could swear i read somewhere that caro planned to spend a year or two living in a small village in vietnam to research the last volume, but i can't find a reference to it in any of the recent interviews.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 7 May 2012 22:00 (five years ago) Permalink

any idea what is the worst thing LBJ said about JFK in public?

the rickets comment qualifies, although it probably amused JFK as much as it did me.

Also: "Have you heard the news? Jack's pediatricians have just given him a clean bill of health."

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 22:05 (five years ago) Permalink

Erik Nelson: two-thirds too long.


World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:30 (five years ago) Permalink

there was a pretty silly review in the washington post: it complained that caro's sentences were too long, then patronizingly likened it to carl sandburg's book on 'lincoln' and said that it probably wouldn't be used by future historians.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:37 (five years ago) Permalink

The debate about JFK's decision to choose LBJ as a running mate DOES go on too long, and the book includes too many passages of the "Dormant for three years, suddenly aides saw the grim determination and tight-set mouth they recognized from the fifties" variety. But I haven't finished it yet.

Morbs, have you read any of it?

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:38 (five years ago) Permalink

I mean Gibbon's history is also two-thirds too long tbh.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:39 (five years ago) Permalink

'another damned book! always scribble, scribble! eh, mr gibbon?'

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:54 (five years ago) Permalink

No, I haven't even opened the copy of The Power Broker I've owned for eons.

World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Monday, 7 May 2012 23:59 (five years ago) Permalink

all these books are too long but i mean whatever. what does everyone have to do that's so important.

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Tuesday, 8 May 2012 01:35 (five years ago) Permalink

caro does repeat himself like you wouldn't believe but the appropriate reaction to that i think is an indulgent lol. and some skimming.

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Tuesday, 8 May 2012 01:38 (five years ago) Permalink

also for some reason all of the copies of this on the shelf at powell's are autographed

their private gesture for bison (difficult listening hour), Tuesday, 8 May 2012 03:24 (five years ago) Permalink

'caro was here'

lag∞n, Tuesday, 8 May 2012 03:32 (five years ago) Permalink

"But was there also something about Caro’s pursuit of L.B.J. that was just a little bit Ahab-like?"

an editor let this through?

If the Johnson of Volumes 1 and 2 is the “bad” L.B.J., then the Johnson of Volume 4 is the “good” one. It is almost as if Caro is writing about two different people — as if, for all his reportorial skill, he can’t countenance Johnson being both ruthless and compassionate in the same volume. He has to be one or the other.

This man has neither read Caro's book nor indeed any book.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 12 May 2012 20:17 (five years ago) Permalink

I hope someday to become this maniacally devoted to a project. So far my project-perseverance record is a couple years at a couple hours a week.

raw feel vegan (silby), Saturday, 12 May 2012 23:17 (five years ago) Permalink

guy is too effin' slow, he better live to 90

World Congress of Itch (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 13 May 2012 00:55 (five years ago) Permalink

Caro makes by far the most convincing case for RFK Maturing than any one of the hagiographers I've read. Apparently he really did create a professional, elite Justice Department and did care about the poor.

oh, to have such an Attorney General once again ...

Boris Kutyurkokhov (Eisbaer), Sunday, 13 May 2012 01:04 (five years ago) Permalink

Jon Stewart seemed a little cowed by him the other night--hardly joked around at all.

clemenza, Sunday, 13 May 2012 01:28 (five years ago) Permalink

also sexual assault
also inappropriate levity for a somber occasion
also rank incompetence

nice cage (m bison), Monday, 5 June 2017 20:34 (seven months ago) Permalink

seven months pass...


Claudia Dreifus: It’s been four years since Knopf released The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of your five-volume Lyndon B. Johnson biography. That ended in Johnson’s first months in the White House—1963 through early 1964. Where are you now with the final volume?

Robert Caro: Well, I’m not doing a section that’s chronological. I’m writing about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy.

Kennedy plays such a large role in this volume that it’s almost as if he’s the protagonist. They hated each other. That becomes a very interesting thing in this book because a surprising amount of what Johnson did was in reaction to what he thought Bobby Kennedy would do.

So, you asked where I am now: I’m writing about 1965 and 1966.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 17 January 2018 22:28 (four days ago) Permalink

A technical question: your books range from 500 to 1,200 or so pages. How does an author keep track of the storyline when you’re writing such huge books?

I outline. I couldn’t outline The Power Broker, at first. There was too much material. For months, I couldn’t figure out how to organize the book.

Then, one day Robert Moses was giving a speech. Cardinal Spellman had given him an exedra, a huge marble bench for reflection. Moses was speaking at the dedication. In the front row were all these “Moses Men,” engineers, functionaries, officials. Moses said something like, “Let us sit on this bench and reflect on the ingratitude of man.” And in the front, I saw all these guys whispering. Yes, why weren’t they grateful to him?

And all of a sudden, I knew that was going to be the last line of the book. “Why weren’t they grateful?” I drove back home and started outlining.

I learned a lesson from that. Before I start a book, I must know the last line. If I can’t, I can’t do the book. Once I have it, I’ll write toward that last line.

Do you have a closing line for the last volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson?

Yes. Yes.

Would you tell me what it is?

[ Laughs ] No.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 17 January 2018 22:32 (four days ago) Permalink

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.