Pulitzer-Prize winning author Robert A. Caro’s career has been consistently dedicated to one thing and one thing only: President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s life. LBJ is once again the subject of a highly-anticipated fourth book in a series by Caro, detailing the life of the late president.
In an interview with CBS News, Caro touched upon his fixation on the former president, and responded to charged of obsession. “I’ve heard the word obsessive,” he says, “The book that’s out now, ‘The Passage of Power,’ you could say, well you could’ve done that, his vice presidency and coming to the presidency, in a couple of chapters. But what you couldn’t have done in a couple of chapters is examine how, when President Kennedy is assassinated, he has no transition period – like one minute he is not president, and then in another minute, the instant of that gunshot in Dallas, he is president. He gets back on Air Force One, he has to get off the plane in Washington and start making decisions. So you say, look at him doing that. Let’s examine exactly what he’s doing here.”
The first three volumes in Caro’s opus detailed LBJ’s rise to power. The fourth, The Passage of Power, starts with the 1960 election, and the events that caused Johnson to lose the Democratic nomination to John F. Kennedy. Johnson disliked the then-Massachusetts senator, though the real source of such negative animus on the part of LBJ went back further – to his mutual antagonism with Robert Kennedy. Johnson’s complicated relationships with members of the Kennedy family provide the meat of Caro’s book.
His interest in LBJ’s consolidation of power began when he was writing another biography about Robert Moses, the urban planner responsible for modern-day New York City. Caro won a Pulitzer for this highly-acclaimed biography, and another for one of his earlier tomes on LBJ. Despite Caro’s scrutiny regarding LBJ, the new book does end with the president’s greatest contribution – passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Caro will continue the story of LBJ with another volume that deals with LBJ’s unwitting self-destruction over his handling of the Vietnam War. Caro intends this to be the final volume of his work on LBJ. But is Caro a dispassionate journalist? How does he feel, personally, about LBJ?
“People are always asking me, do I like him or dislike him?” he said. “You know, those words don’t even apply to my feelings about him. I’m watching a man who was a genius in the use of political power. I’m awed by him.”