Update: I forgot to add this detail: Square Books in Oxford has signed copies of Caro’s book, Passage to Power.
It is often odd to read a review while one is in the middle of reading the book under review, and Garry Wills’s review of Robert Caro’s new installment in his never-ending biography of Lyndon Johnson is no exception.
Wills gets two things wrong, I think: He concludes that John Kennedy lied to his brother, Bobby, about whether he meant to have Johnson on the ticket as Vice President. Reading Caro’s account of the Democratic convention, it seems pretty clear that John was set on Johnson, and Bobby was freelancing and trying to get Johnson off the ticket because Bobby hated Lyndon Johnson. Another thing Wills gets wrong I think is a simple misreading. Caro has exchanges between Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson about when Johnson should take the oath occurring after Air Force One left Dallas. That’s not what Caro says.
But, having read about a third of Caro’s newest installment, I’ll say that Wills is right about the centrality of the blood feud between Johnson and Robert Kennedy. It makes for fascinating reading.
I’m now over something like 2500 pages into this series, and I want to tell folks it’s worth it. The first in the series is one of the best histories I’ve ever read. This ons one– the fourth– stands with it. Highly recommended.
Update: I wrote this post after a brutal day at work, and made a couple of name swaps, one noted in comments and one where I said “Caro” when I meant “Wills.” Both are corrected.