For whatever reason I find former President Lyndon Johnson fascinating. I’ve read a few articles about him as a person and a president and some or all of a few biographies (including Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin). But my favorite reading about this deeply complex man has been the multi-volume and still incomplete biography by Robert Caro. I have not read the first volume (covering Johnson’s youth through his time in the House of Representatives) but I devoured the second volume (about his first unsuccessful and then second successful run for the Senate) and the third (about Johnson’s incredible mastery of the Senate during his time there. Now I am roughly a quarter of the way through the fourth volume focused mainly on Johnson as Vice President.
It starts with Johnson’s tragically inept attempt to gain the Presidential nomination in 1960 before shifting to the campaign that brought John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson into the White House. It then shifts to Johnson’s difficulties with having virtually no power as Vice President among politicians who had little respect or appreciation for him. Even though I know where the story is heading as I move into a section called “Dallas” (spoiler alert, that was not a good trip for JFK) I still find the amazing detail that Caro supplies to be deeply interesting. He is going to spend over two hundred pages talking about the first 50 days of Johnson’s presidency and I know that the stories will be riveting.
I’m not sure why I find Johnson such a fascinating person and President. Caro makes clear that he was a man deeply flawed, and I am fairly familiar with the historical facts around what Caro covers in these volumes. But the writing is compelling, the situations interesting, and the picture drawn of Lyndon Johnson feels vivid and engaging. I like reading biographies in addition to all the other things I read and Caro’s work on Johnson continues to be very satisfying to sit with. I’m not always sure what I can learn from this story, but I do enjoy reading it.