Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Master of The Senate: Book Review

Author: Robert Caro

Length: 1,049 pages

What is It: A thorough look at the inner machinations and accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson's U.S. Senate career as orchestrated by the pragmatic politician himself.

What's Said: The rich history of the Senate, the intricacies of its internal dynamics and rules, and the relationship of the chamber to Congress and the President are illuminated here. That is the backdrop to an examination of Lyndon Johnson's political life - a tale of motivations, ambitions, fears, failures, dealings, compassion, ruthlessness, affairs, manipulations, genius, gruffness, practicality and familial influence. All of which are defined and give full context to or for his actions. MTS is largely organized around LBJ's development and relationship with political power with a secondary adherence to the linear timeline of his life in the Senate.

What's True: The Senate was well designed by the forefathers to withstand the incredible power of the will/whims of the people. It is a body vulnerable mostly unto itself. The struggle of the Civil War lived on in the ideology of the "southern senators" who exacted their revenge upon the union (but really the nation) by their actions and inactions. Effectiveness in bipartisan politics requires an element of practicality - ideology alone is not enough. LBJ's genius lied in his adept attention not only to legislative detail but to the legislator himself, multiplied by an uncanny ability to read and act upon those details. MTS is a full measure the senator, not just as eventual champion of civil rights, but also as a prominent detractor. Like most historic figures who get distilled, LBJ's true being is far more complex in reality. This is a thorough and balanced account of that, and a painstaking deconstruction of how to acquire, maintain and exact power.

So What: History's influence in our affairs comes from the exercise of looking at what has transpired and transposing that experience onto our present and future. The open question is always: Would we want this to be repeated? The trade off between idealism and practicality is real in politics and should be answered carefully by those who practice and we who elect. Lastly - don't be quickly discouraged - this book is a page turner, rich in plot, character development and scenery. It builds and delivers like a literary masterpiece. And if you have any interest in history, power, politics, or the man, you will undoubtedly appreciate this.

Final Word: Definite Read

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