Means of Ascent

This was the follow-up to [[Path to Power]], which was perhaps my favorite book of 2021. (And of 1982, I guess!)

I liked this book much less, and I think Caro expected people to like this book much less: he presaged as much in his introduction, warning the reader that the content of the book is less meandering and less revealing than other books in his series. It takes place between LBJ's first and second senate runs, a time in which he spends little time doing anything politically interesting and is mostly just an angry bitter climber. (I paraphrase.) And, indeed, it is a third of the size of the books before and after it.

The lion's share of the book takes place during the 1948 Senate campaign in which LBJ narrowly and viciously ekes out a victory over Coke Stevenson. This is gripping — even as you know the ending — and perhaps the most editorially blighted Caro has been. He presents Stevenson as a bit of a Texas folk hero, and indeed having not heard of him before this book I was tickled to learn that the book is responsible for bringing Stevenson into the public light.

There's a lot of back and forth about Caro's portrayal of the two figures, and indeed I think a fairer writer would have been more aggressive with Stevenson's political strategy. But a beautiful and philosophic note was struck with how he treated Stevenson in the book's coda: as a man who lost a race but was never consumed by it, and perhaps was freed from a life of political toil to pursue his true loves of ranching and public works and intimacy.

I don't fault Caro at all for my complaints with the book: he did exactly what he could with the material. Marking it as a lesser book seems a little futile: it is still required reading.

My sole complaint is that there's a non-trivial chunk of the book that is a direct replica of content in [[Path to Power]]. Just be brave and omit it entirely! But, you know, who am I to lecture Caro?



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