African American Literature,  America,  Book Reviews,  FOUR STARS ****,  History,  Memoir/Biography,  Prize Winner

Master of the Senate by Robert Caro **** (of 4)

Third in Caro’s serial biography of Lyndon Johnson, this massive volume covers Johnson’s decade in the Senate.  For most of the 1950s LBJ ran the senate with an iron fist, at once the youngest and most skillful man to do so perhaps in the Senate’s history.  In following Johnson’s story we learn how the Senate really operates; a civics lesson far in excess of anything any one ever (used) to learn in school.  We see the deep divide among red states and blue states over issues of business versus labor, wealth preservation in opposition to support for the needy, the Cold War, and greater than any other issue, race relations.  Through the 1950s most black Americans in the south were prohibited from voting, fully segregated from whites in schools, stores, hospitals, and anywhere else blacks and whites might find themselves in extended proximity, and subjected to mob justice.  Whether the stranglehold on black lives could be addressed by the United States federal government divided the South (opposed to Federal usurpation of States’ rights) from the north and Johnson gets credit in this book for managing a compromise that for the first time cracked the door open to let a slim ray of light expose the darkness of southern discrimination.  Partly what makes the book so fascinating is how complex is Johnson’s personality:  driven, ambitious, cajoling, vicious, denigrating, sycophantic, manipulative, caring, and insufferable.  Taking on any of Caro’s books is a commitment — they are very long — but his able technique includes stories both small and large that together assemble into a complete tale of America in the mid-20th Century.