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Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II (Paperback)

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Robert A. Caro's life of Lyndon Johnson, which began with the greatly acclaimed The Path to Power, also winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, continues -- one of the richest, most intensive and most revealing examinations ever undertaken of an American President. In Means of Ascent the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer/historian, chronicler also of Robert Moses in The Power Broker, carries Johnson through his service in World War II and the foundation of his long-concealed fortune and the facts behind the myths he created about it. But the explosive heart of the book is Caro's revelation of the true story of the fiercely contested 1948 senatorial election, for forty years shrouded in rumor, which Johnson had to win or face certain political death, and which he did win -- by "the 87 votes that changed history." Caro makes us witness to a momentous turning point in American politics: the tragic last stand of the old politics versus the new -- the politics of issue versus the politics of image, mass manipulation, money and electronic dazzle.

About the Author


   For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist."

   To create his first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro spent seven years tracing and talking with hundreds of men and women who worked with, for, or against Robert Moses, including a score of his top aides.  He examined mountains of files never open to the public.  Everywhere acclaimed as a modern classic, The Power Broker was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest non-fiction books of the twentieth century. It is, according to David Halberstam, "Surely the greatest book ever written about a city." And The New York times Book Review said: "In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort."

   To research The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Caro and his wife, Ina, moved from his native New York City to the Texas Hill Country and then to Washington, D.C., to live in the locales in which Johnson grew up and in which he built, while he was still young, his first political machine.  He has spent years examining documents at the Johnson Library in Austin and interviewing men and women connected with Johnson's life, many of whom had never before been interviewed. The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as "proof that we live in a great age of biography... [a book] of radiant excellence... Caro's evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson's unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are—let  it be said flat out—at the summit of American historical writing." Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, "brilliant.  No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born."  And the London Times hailed volume three, Masters of the Senate, as "a masterpiece... Robert Caro has written on of the truly great political biographies of the modern age."
 
  "Caro has a unique place among American political biographers," according to The Boston Globe.  "He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured."  And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: "Caro has changed the art of political biography."

   Caro graduated from Princeton University and later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.  He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, an historian and writer.

Praise for Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II…


"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

Product Details ISBN-10: 067973371X
ISBN-13: 9780679733713
Published: Vintage, 03/06/1991
Pages: 592
Language: English