Despite more than 30 years spent researching and writing thousands of pages about every aspect of Johnson’s career and life (with at least one more entry remaining), Caro maintains a balanced perspective. He hammers Johnson and praises him when merited, all without falling into the biographer’s trap of celebrating too much of one or the other and remaining vigilant to his subject’s blend of outsized traits on both ends of the spectrum. LBJ, much like Robert Kennedy, can be cruel and ruthless, only to pivot into breathtaking acts of empathy and graciousness. Caro never lets his subject charm him beyond clear-eyed assessment, at one point reminding readers (and himself): “Ruthlessness, secretiveness, deceit – significant elements in every previous stage of Lyndon Johnson’s life story.” And, as we all know, few people change much, if at all.
Caro long ago mastered his subject – Johnson and power – the way LBJ gleaned all he could in political calculation. Thus, when the historian describes how and why Johnson responded to the ultimate challenge of replacing a slain, beloved president, he has all of the telling anecdotes, feuds, strokes of legislative genius, and both the bullying and the charm of his subject at the ready.