This is the first volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, the 36th President of the United States. This is the first volume of Robert Caro's brilliant multi-volume biography of one of the most fascinating figures in American history: Lyndon Baines Johnson. It covers the years from LBJ's birth in 1908 to his defeat in a 1941 special election for the United States Senate.
It is said the childhood shapes everyone and it is particularly true in the case of LBJ. His family had lived in the Texas Hill Country for many generations and that legacy shaped Johnson. His mother Rebekah Baines was a strong, intelligent, and sensitive woman. Her son adored her, but he was embarrassed by his father Sam Johnson. He should not have been. Sam was highly respected member of the Texas House of Representatives and was a close friend and associate of Sam Rayburn. Sam Johnson was a man of principle and integrity but he was a terrible businessman. In short, LBJ grew up in genteel poverty.
LBJ was a boisterous, outgoing boy. He was very bright but had a hard time sitting still and was never much of a reader. He attended Southwest Texas State Teachers' College and became active in student politics becoming class President. He was a controversial figure even then; his nickname was Bull Johnson because of his propensity to say different things to different people. He was also accused of stealing elections in college, which foreshadows later events in his life. Lyndon Johnson thought of his father as a loser and he was determined to win at all costs.
After graduating from college, Johnson spent some time as a schoolteacher. Later in life, he spoke movingly of the impoverished Mexican children he taught. He vowed to help them if he ever had the chance and he did so as President.
In 1931, Johnson landed a job as secretary to Congressman Richard Kleberg of Texas. He was Kleberg's right hand man and did most of the work in the Washington office. Kleberg was an amiable, passive man who was an heir to the King Ranch fortune. He was glad to let his ambitious aide carry the load. Johnson became Speaker of the Little Congress, an organization for aides. There were, once again, charges of electoral fraud, which baffled all concerned. Why fix an election for a powerless organization? Johnson had to win, that's why.
LBJ married Claudia Alta Taylor in 1934. She was a shy, intelligent woman better known by her nickname, Lady Bird. She spent most of their marriage smoothing over LBJ's rough edges and putting up with his infidelities.
Johnson was an ambitious man who cultivated contacts throughout Washington DC. His ties to the White House led to his appointment as the head of the Texas Youth Association. LBJ turned this organization into a power base for his successful run for Congress in 1937 representing Austin and the Hill Country.
LBJ ran as an ardent supporter of FDR and the New Deal and wangled that into a friendship with the President. His first 4 years as a Congressman were undistinguished but his penchant for befriending older, powerful men helped him gain support for a run for the Senate in 1941. He was defeated by former Governor Pappy O'Daniel in a close race. He vowed to never let that happen again.
Best part of story, including ending:
It is well written and researched with interviews with people who both loved and hated LBJ.
Best scene in story:
The details of Johnson's childhood are very interesting indeed. It truly shaped his personality.
Opinion about the main character:
Lyndon Johnson was one of the most complex people I've ever encountered. He was capable of great compassion and kindness as well as terrible cruelty.