As readers of this blog can probably tell, I have a historian’s affection for Robert Caro. He’s important not only because of the depth of his work, but because of the timely relevance of his studies in power. For those unfamiliar with Caro’s work, he is most famous for his biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Released on May 1st, The Passage of Power, is the fourth volume in his The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Caro’s work is known for detailed research, lengthy texts, and unsurpassed storytelling. Caro’s work is important for both the historian and the general public because he takes on the nature of power. He explores the nuance of obtaining, exercise, and impact of power on both individuals and society.
Today, with the government in low esteem across the board, Americans would do themselves a service to delve into Caro’s work. Thanks to a college professor, I was forced to read Caro’s The Master of the Senate my freshman year in college. I say forced because the work weighted in at around 1000 pages. Once I cracked it open, I was hooked. Caro’s dissection of the intricacies of obtaining power engulf the reader. Power is not given, it is taken, one day at a time, over the course of a person’s life. While Caro focuses on LBJ’s exercise of power in Master of the Senate, the earlier books in the series focus on the acquisition of power. The Path to Power and The Means of Ascent trace Johnson’s burning ambition AND how the means to his end.
The Master of the Senate sparked my interest in studying the nature of political power. Recently, in some down time during the school year, I’ve had some time to read the other volumes in the series. These works fulfill some need, some primal urge to understand how the powerful, who control our society, gain their influence. When questioning the nature of our government, I wanted to understand where we’ve been to understand why we’ve come to the deadlock that is American politics. Caro’s work fulfills those needs.
I mention works because while Caro is known for his biography of LBJ, he started out writing an epic tomb on Robert Moses of New York. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York follows a scion of New York politics who managed to maneuver his way through the government system in a remarkable manner: Robert Moses, arguably the most powerful man in New York for four decades, never won an election. He was never elected, yet he reshaped the physical landscape of the most populous city in the United States.
Below is a series of articles and interviews I’ve found interesting in my study of Caro’s works. If you do buy his works, the best deal is a used paperback, as the Kindle version is overpriced. For the history nerd, it’s also difficult to study the endnotes in the Kindle.