Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3

Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3

by Robert A. Caro


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Master of the Senate, Book Three of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, carries Johnson’s story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.
It was during these years that all Johnson’s experience—from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine—came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term-the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate’s hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the “unchangeable” Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.
Caro demonstrates how Johnson’s political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust—or at least the cooperation—of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson’s ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights. In a breathtaking tour de force, Caro details Johnson’s amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.
Master of the Senate, told with an abundance of rich detail that could only have come from Caro’s peerless research, is both a galvanizing portrait of the man himself—the titan of Capital Hill, volcanic, mesmerizing—and a definitive and revelatory study of the workings and personal and legislative power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780394528366
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/23/2002
Series: Years of Lyndon Johnson Series , #3
Pages: 1200
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.50(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, has three times won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2010 President Barack Obama awarded Caro the National Humanities Medal, stating at the time: “I think about Robert Caro and reading The Power Broker back when I was twenty-two years old and just being mesmerized, and I’m sure it helped to shape how I think about politics.” In 2016 he received the National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. The London Sunday Times has said that Caro is “The greatest political biographer of our times.”  
Caro’s first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, everywhere acclaimed as a modern classic, was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. It is, according to David Halberstam, “Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.” And The New York Times Book Review said: “In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort.” 

The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as “proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are—let it be said flat out—at the summit of American historical writing.” Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, “brilliant. No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born.” The London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as “a masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.” The Passage of Power, volume four, has been called “Shakespearean . . . A breathtakingly dramatic story [told] with consummate artistry and ardor” (The New York Times) and “as absorbing as a political thriller . . . By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, Caro has forever changed the way we think about, and read, American history” (NPR). On the cover of The New York Times Book Review, President Bill Clinton praised it as “Brilliant . . . Important . . . Remarkable. With this fascinating and meticulous account Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.” 
“Caro has a unique place among American political biographers,” The Boston Globe said . . . “He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”

Born and raised in New York City, Caro graduated from Princeton University, was later a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, and worked for six years as an investigative reporter for Newsday. He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, the historian and writer.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 30, 1935

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Princeton University, 1957; Nieman Fellow at Harvard University

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Desks of the Senate The Chamber of the United States Senate was a long, cavernous space—over a hundred feet long. From its upper portion, from the galleries for citizens and journalists which rimmed it, it seemed even longer than it was, in part because it was so gloomy and dim—so dim in 1949, when lights had not yet been added for television and the only illumination came from the ceiling almost forty feet above the floor, that its far end faded away in shadows—and in part because it was so pallid and bare. Its drab tan damask walls, divided into panels by tall columns and pilasters and by seven sets of double doors, were unrelieved by even a single touch of color—no painting, no mural—or, seemingly, by any other ornament. Above those walls, in the galleries, were rows of seats as utilitarian as those of a theater and covered in a dingy gray, and the features of the twenty white marble busts of the country’s first twenty vice presidents, set into niches above the galleries, were shadowy and blurred. The marble of the pilasters and columns was a dull reddish gray in the gloom. The only spots of brightness in the Chamber were the few tangled red and white stripes on the flag that hung limply from a pole on the presiding officer’s dais, and the reflection of the ceiling lights on the tops of the ninety-six mahogany desks arranged in four long half circles around the well below the dais. From the galleries the low red-gray marble dais was plain and unimposing, apparently without decoration. The desks themselves, small and spindly, seemed more like schoolchildren’s desks than the desks of senators of the United States, mightiest of republics.

When a person stood on the floor of the Senate Chamber, however—in the well below the dais—the dais was, suddenly, not plain at all. Up close, its marble was a deep, dark red lushly veined with grays and greens, and set into it, almost invisible from the galleries, but, up close, richly glinting, were two bronze laurel wreaths, like the wreaths that the Senate of Rome bestowed on generals with whom it was pleased, when Rome ruled the known world—and the Senate ruled Rome. From the well, the columns and pilasters behind the dais were, suddenly, tall and stately and topped with scrolls, like the columns of the Roman Senate’s chamber, the columns before which Cato spoke and Caesar fell, and above the columns, carved in cream-colored marble, were eagles, for Rome’s legions marched behind eagles. From the well, there was, embroidered onto each pale damask panel, an ornament in the same pale color and all but invisible from above—a shield—and there were cream-colored marble shields, and swords and arrows, above the doors. And the doors—those seven pairs of double doors, each flanked by its tall columns and pilasters—were tall, too, and their grillwork, hardly noticeable from above, was intricate and made of beaten bronze, and it was framed by heavy, squared bronze coils. The vice presidential busts were, all at once, very high above you; set into deep, arched niches, flanked by massive bronze sconces, their marble faces, thoughtful, stern, encircled the Chamber like a somber evocation of the Republic’s glorious past. And, rising from the well, there were the desks.

The desks of the Senate rise in four shallow tiers, one above the other, in a deep half circle. Small and spindly individually, from the well they blend together so that with their smooth, burnished mahogany tops reflecting even the dim lights in the ceiling so far above them, they form four sweeping, glowing arcs. To stand in the well of the Senate is to stand among these four long arcs that rise around and above you, that stretch away from you, gleaming richly in the gloom: powerful, majestic. To someone standing in the well, the Chamber, in all its cavernous drabness, is only a setting for those desks—for those desks, and for the history that was made at them.

The first forty-eight of those desks—they are of a simple, federal design—were carved in 1819 to replace the desks the British had burned five years before. When, in 1859, the Senate moved into this Chamber, those desks moved with them, and when, as the Union grew, more desks were added, they were carved to the same design. And for decades—for most of the first century of the Republic’s existence, in fact; for the century in which it was transformed from a collection of ragged colonies into an empire—much of its history was hammered out among those desks.

Daniel Webster’s hand rested on one of those desks when, on January 26, 1830, he rose to reply again to Robert Hayne.

Every desk in the domed, colonnaded room that was then the Senate’s Chamber was filled that day—some not with senators but with spectators, for so many visitors, not only from Washington but from Baltimore and New York, had crowded into the Chamber, overflowing the galleries, that some senators had surrendered their seats and were standing against the walls or even among the desks—for the fate of the young nation might hang on that reply. In the South, chafing under the domination of the North and East, there was a new word abroad—secession—and the South’s leading spokesman, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, had, although he was Vice President of the United States, proposed a step that would go a long way toward shattering the Union: that any state unwilling to abide by a law enacted by the national government could nullify it within its borders. In an earlier Senate speech that January of 1830, the South, through the South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne, had proposed that the West should join the South in an alliance that could have the most serious implications for the future of the Union. The specific issue Hayne raised was the price of public lands in the West: the West wanted the price kept low to attract settlers from the East and encourage development; the East wanted the price kept high so its people would stay home, and continue to provide cheap labor for northern factories. The East, whose policies had so long ground down the South, was now, Hayne said, trying to do the same thing to the West, and the West should unite with the South against it. And the Senator raised broader issues as well. Why should one section be taxed to construct a public improvement in another? “What interest has South Carolina in a canal in Ohio?” And what if Ohio didn’t want it? Why should the national government decide such issues? The sovereignty of the individual states—their rights, their freedom—was being trampled. The reaction of many western senators to Hayne’s proposal of an alliance had been ominously favorable; Missouri’s Thomas Hart Benton asked the South to “stretch forth” a “protecting arm” against the East. And to Webster’s first speech in response, Hayne—slight, slender, and aristocratic in bearing although dressed in a “coarse homespun suit that he had substituted for the hated broadcloth manufactured in the North”—had passionately attacked the North’s “meddling statesmen” and abolitionists, and had defended slavery, states’ rights, and nullification in arguments that were considered so unanswerable that the “white, triumphant face” of a smiling Calhoun, presiding over the Senate as Vice President, and the toasts in Washington taverns to Hayne, to the South, and to nullification reflected the general feeling that the South had won. And then two days later, on the 26th, Senator Webster of Massachusetts, with his dark, craggy face, jet-black hair, and jutting black eyebrows—“Black Dan” Webster, with his deep booming voice that “could shake the world,” Webster, Emerson’s “great cannon loaded to the lips”—rose, in blue coat with bright brass buttons, buff waistcoat, and white cravat, rose to answer, and, as he spoke, the smile faded from Calhoun’s face.

He stood erect as he spoke, his left hand resting on his desk, his voice filling the Chamber, and, one by one, he examined and demolished Hayne’s arguments. The claim that a state could decide constitutional questions? The Constitution, Webster said, is the fundamental law of a people—of one people—not of states. “We the People of the United States made this Constitution. . . . This government came from the people, and is responsible to them.” “He asks me, ‘What interest has South Carolina in a canal to the Ohio?’ The answer to that question expounds the whole diversity of sentiment between that gentleman and me. . . . According to his doctrine, she has no interest in it. Accourding to his doctorin, Ohio is one country, and South Carolina is another country. . . . I, sir, take a different view of the whole matter. I look upon Ohio and South Carolina to be parts of one whole—parts of the same country—and that country is my country. . . . I come here not to consider that I will do this for one distinct part of it, and that for another, but . . . to legislate for the whole.” And finally Webster turned to a higher idea: the idea—in and of itself—of Union, permanent and enduring. The concept was, as one historian would note, “still something of a novelty in 1830. . . . Liberty was supposed to depend more on the rights of states than on the powers of the general government.” But to Webster, the ideas were not two ideas but one.

When my eyes shall be turned for the last time on the meridian sun, I hope I may see him shining brightly upon my united, free and happy Country. I hope I shall not live to see his beams falling upon the dispersed fragments of the structure of this once glorious Union. I hope that I may not see the flag of my Country, with its stars separated or obliterated, torn by commotion, smoking with the blood of civil war. I hope I may not see the standard raised of separate State rights, star against star, and stripe against stripe; but that the flag of the Union may keep its stars and its stripes corded and bound together in indissoluble ties. I hope I shall not see written, as its motto, first Liberty, and then Union. I hope I shall see no such delusion and deluded motto on the flag of that Country. I hope to see spread all over it, blazoned in letters of light, and proudly floating over Land and Sea that other sentiment, dear to my heart, “Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable!”

Tears in the crowded Senate gallery; tears on the crowded Senate floor. “Even Calhoun,” it was said, “revealed the emotions he tried so hard to conceal. Love and pride of country—these were things he could understand, too.” Men and women were weeping openly as Daniel Webster finished. Among those men were western senators, ardent nationalists, who had “thrilled to the patriotic fervor of Webster’s final words.” Those words crushed the southern hope for an alliance with the West. They did more. Webster revised the speech before it was published in pamphlet form, trying to convert the spoken words, “embellished as they had been by gestures, modulations of voice, and changes of expression, into words that would be read without these accompaniments but would leave the reader as thrilled and awed as the listening audience had been.” He succeeded. Edition followed edition, and when copies ran out, men and women passed copies from hand to hand; in Tennessee, it was said, each copy “has probably been read by as many as fifty different” persons. “No speech in the English language, perhaps no speech in modern times, had ever been as widely diffused and widely read as Webster’s Second Reply to Hayne,” an historian of the period was to write. That speech “raised the idea of Union above contract or expediency and enshrined it in the American heart.” It made the Union, as Ralph Waldo Emerson would put it, “part of the religion of this people.” And the only change Webster made in those ringing last nine words was to reverse “Union” and “Liberty,” so they read: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” Those words would be memorized by generations of schoolchildren, they would be chiseled in marble on walls and monuments—those words, spoken among those desks, in the Senate.

The long struggle of the colonies that were now become states against a King and the King’s representatives—the royal governors and proprietary officials in each colony—had made the colonists distrust and fear the possibilities for tyranny inherent in executive authority. And so, in creating the new nation, its Founding Fathers, the framers of its Constitution, gave its legislature or Congress not only its own powers, specified and sweeping, powers of the purse (“To lay and collect Taxes . . . To borrow Money on the credit of the United States . . . To coin Money”) and powers of the sword (“To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal . . . To raise and support Armies . . . To provide and maintain a Navy . . .”) but also powers designed to make the Congress independent of the President and to restrain and act as a check on his authority: power to approve his appointments, even the appointments he made within his own Administration, even appointments he made to his own Cabinet; power to remove his appointees through impeachment—to remove him through impeachment, should it prove necessary; power to override his vetoes of their Acts. And the most potent of these restraining powers the Framers gave to the Senate. While the House of Representatives was given the “sole power of Impeachment,” the Senate was given the “sole power to try all Impeachments” (“And no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of Two Thirds of the Members present”). The House could accuse; only the Senate could judge, only the Senate convict. The power to approve presidential appointments was given to the Senate alone; a President could nominate and appoint ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, and all other officers of the United States, but only “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” Determined to deny the President the prerogative most European monarchs enjoyed of declaring war, the Framers gave that power to Congress as a whole, to House as well as Senate, but the legislative portion of the power of ending war by treaties, of preventing war by treaties—the power to do everything that can be done by treaties between nations—was vested in the Senate alone; while most European rulers could enter into a treaty on their own authority, an American President could make one only “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was to write:

The Founding Fathers appear to have envisaged the treaty- making process as a genuine exercise in concurrent authority, in which the President and Senate would collaborate at all stages. . . . One third plus one of the senators . . . retained the power of life and death over the treaties.

Nor was it only the power of the executive of which the Framers were wary. These creators of a government of the people feared not only the people’s rulers but the people themselves, the people in their numbers, the people in their passions, what the Founding Father Edmund Randolph called “the turbulence and follies of democracy.”

The Framers of the Constitution feared the people’s power because they were, many of them, members of what in America constituted an aristocracy, an aristocracy of the educated, the well-born, and the well-to-do, and they mistrusted those who were not educated or well-born or well-to-do. More specifically, they feared the people’s power because, possessing, and esteeming, property, they wanted the rights of property protected against those who did not possess it. In the notes he made for a speech in the Constitutional Convention, James Madison wrote of the “real or supposed difference of interests” between “the rich and poor”—“those who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings”—and of the fact that over the ages to come the latter would come to outnumber the former. “According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the latter,” he noted. “Symptoms, of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in certain quarters to give notice of the future danger.” But the Framers feared the people’s power also because they hated tyranny, and they knew there could be a tyranny of the people as well as the tyranny of a King, particularly in a system designed so that, in many ways, the majority ruled. “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power,” Madison wrote. These abuses were more likely because the emotions of men in the mass ran high and fast, they were “liable to err . . . from fickleness and passion,” and “the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the minority.”

So the Framers wanted to check and restrain not only the people’s rulers, but the people; they wanted to erect what Madison called “a necessary fence” against the majority will. To create such a fence, they decided that the Congress would have not one house but two, and that while the lower house would be designed to reflect the popular will, that would not be the purpose of the upper house. How, Madison asked, is “the future danger”—the danger of “a leveling spirit”—“to be guarded against on republican principles? How is the danger in all cases of interested coalitions to oppress the minority to be guarded against? Among other means by the establishment of a body in the government sufficiently respectable for its wisdom and virtue, to aid on such emergencies, the preponderance of justice by throwing its weight into that scale.” This body, Madison said, was to be the Senate. Summarizing in the Constitutional Convention the ends that would be served by this proposed upper house of Congress, Madison said they were “first to protect the people against their rulers; secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.”

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A wonderful, a glorious tale. . . . It will be hard to equal this amazing book.” Anthony Lewis, The New York Times Book Review

“Caro has a unique place among American political biographers. He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” –The Boston Globe

“Caro has changed the art of political biography.” —Nicholas von Hoffman

“Mesmerizing. . . . [It] brings LBJ blazing into the Senate. . . . A tale rife with drama and hypnotic in the telling.” —Newsweek

“Caro’s immersion in the man and period yields a fascinating, entertaining abundance.. . Master of the Senate splendidly reassembles the U.S. Senate of those years.” —Time

“Brilliant . . . Caro achieves a special tension, too rare in history books but essential in epic poetry: the drama of a hero who is wrestling with his enemies, his limitations and his fate to achieve something truly lasting . . . In his hands, the obscure fight over legislation becomes nothing less than a battle for the soul of America . . .It’s a terribly important work, unblinkingly delineating the inner workings of our democracy.”—Chicago Tribune

“A masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.” —The Times (London)

“An epic tale of winning and wielding power.” —Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A wonderful, a glorious tale. It will be hard to equal this amazing book. I went back over chapters to make sure I had not missed a word." —Anthony Lewis, New York Times Book Review

"Caro must be America's greatest living Presidential biographer . . . He entrances us with both his words and his research . . . No other contemporary biographer offers such a complex picture of the forces driving an American politician, or populates his work with such vividly drawn secondary characters.” —Richard S. Dunham, BusinessWeek

"Brilliant . . .A riveting political drama.” —Douglas Brinkley, Boston Globe

“The most complete portrait of the Senate ever drawn.” —Michael Wolff, New York

“A terrific study of power politics.”—Steve Neal, Chicago Sun-Times

“In this fascinating book, Robert Caro does more than carry forward his epic life of Lyndon Johnson. With compelling narrative power and with remarkable subtlety and sensitivity, he illuminates the Senate of the United States and its byzantine power struggles. In this historical tour-de-force, Robert Caro shows himself the true 'master of the Senate.' "—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr

Master of the Senate and its two preceding volumes are the highest expression of biography as art. After The Path to Power and Means of Ascent, there shouldn't be much debate about Caro's grand achievement, but let's be clear about this nonetheless: In terms of political biography, not only does it not get better than this, it can't.” —Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman

"These [legislative battles] are great stories, the stuff of the legends of democracy—rich in character, plot, suspense, nuttiness, human frailty, maddening stupidity. These should be the American sagas; these should be our epics. Bob Caro has given us a beauty, and I think we owe him great thanks."—Molly Ivins, New York Observer

“Indefatigably researched and brilliantly written . . . Powerful . . . One of Caro’s most valuable contributions is his excavation of the lost art of legislating . . . Rich and rewarding.’ —Ronald Brownstein, Times Literary Supplement

“Epic . . . It is impossible to imagine that a political science class on the U.S. Congress can be taught today that does not reference this book. It is a florid and graphic account of how Congress works, an authoritative work on the history of the Senate and a virtual cookbook of recipes for legislative success for the nascent politician.”—Robert F. Julian, New York Law Journal

"A panoramic study of how power plays out in the legislative arena. Combining the best techniques of investigative reporting with majestic storytelling ability, Caro has created a vivid, revelatory institutional history as well as a rich hologram of Johnson's character . . . He seems to have perfectly captured and understood Johnson’s capacity for greatness."—Jill Abramson, New York Times

" Master of the Senate forces us not only to rewrite our national political history but to rethink it as well . . . Caro's been burrowing beneath the shadows of the substance of our politics for more than twenty-eight years, and what he finds is both fascinating and surprising . . . Compulsively readable.”—Eric Alterman, The Nation

"A spectacular piece of historical biography, delicious reading for both political junkies and serious students of the political process . . . . Fascinating."—Robert D. Novak, The Weekly Standard

"Vintage Caro—a portrait so deft, vivid, and compelling that you practically feel LBJ gripping your arm and bending you to his will." —Jean Strouse

"Of all the many Johnson biographies, none approaches Caro's work in painstaking thoroughness, meticulous detail and the capture of character . . . A dazzling tour de force that certifies Caro as the country's preeminent specialist in examining political power and its uses."—Paul Duke, Baltimore Sun

"Masterful . . . A work of genius."—Steve Weinberg, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Caro writes history with [a] novelist’s sensitivity . . . No historian offers a more vivid sense not onl of what happened, but what it looked like and felt like.”—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

“The richly cadenced prose is hypnotic, the research prodigious, the analysis acute, the mood spellbinding, and the cast of characters mythic in scale. I cannot conceive of a better book about Capitol Hill. An unforgettable, epic achievement in the art of biography."—Ron Chernow

“Destined to rank among the great political profiles of our time. Master of the Senate succeeds only in part because Johnson is such a fascinating figure. The other half of the equation is Caro.” —Steve Kraske, Kansas City Star

“It is, quite simply, the finest biography I have ever read. It is more than that: it is one of the finest works of literature I have encountered.”—Irvine Welsh, New Statesman

"Caro is a gifted and passionate writer, and his all-encompassing apporach to understanding LBJ provides readers with a panoramic history of twentieth-century American politics as well as a compelling discourse on the nature and uses of political power . . . One of the best analyses of the legislative process ever written."—Philip A. Klinkner, The Nation

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

In this fascinating book, Robert Caro does more than carry forward his epic life of Lyndon Johnson. With compelling narrative power and with remarkable subtlety and sensitivity, he illuminates the Senate of the United States and its byzantine power struggles. In this historical tour-de-force, Robert Caro shows himself the true Master of the Senate.

Jean Strouse

Master of the Senate is vintage Caro--a portrait so deft, vivid, and compelling that you practically feel LBJ gripping your arm and bending you to his will.

Ron Chernow

In this magnificent work, Robert Caro has given us the grand and absorbing saga of Lyndon Johnson, the U.S. Senate, and the Democratic Party at mid-century. The richly cadenced prose is hypnotic, the research prodigious, the analysis acute, the mood spellbinding, and the cast of characters mythic in scale. I cannot conceive of a better book about Capitol Hill. An unforgettable, epic achievement in the art of biography.


Mastering Johnson: Lyndon Johnson Has Consumed More than a Quarter Century of Robert Caro's Life. So What's a Few More Years?
From the May/June 2002 issue of Book magazine.

Robert Caro has been running behind schedule for the last 30 years. It may just be the secret to his success. The story started back in the 1960s, when Caro assured friends it would take him just nine months to write his first book. The author even swore to his wife, Ina, that they'd finally have a chance to visit Paris after he was finished.

That book, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, took Caro seven years to complete. Now that the author has written three volumes of his epic biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, which began with 1982's The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, he's no longer surprised when he misses a deadline. He expects it.

"Each book has required me to learn another world," explains Caro, who once predicted that Master of the Senate, the third installment, would hit the presses a couple of years after 1990's Means of Ascent. Adds Caro's editor, Robert Gottlieb, "Caro just works harder and longer and gets it right."

Whether Caro "gets it right" has been a matter of debate among Johnson loyalists, who have accused the author of harboring a bias against his subject. "Reviewers have said that my work is more balanced and judicious," explains Robert Dallek, author of a two-volume LBJ biography, "but Caro's clearly a brilliant writer. He engages his reader in a way that I don't have the talent or the inclination to do."

To get a better sense of his subject, Caro repeatedly traveled to Washington, where he mingled with those who had played behind-the-scenes roles during Johnson's ascent. "I really needed a tremendous amount of cooperation from the sort of people who in the 1950s wouldn't have talked much with reporters," Caro explains. "When I started, I would go to the Senate gallery and sit there all day. The tourists would go in and out, and so would the reporters in the press gallery. I'd stay. I was the nut up in the balcony."

Caro is sure his persistence will pay off. "I think readers will see more startlingly than ever before Johnson's genius, the savagery of his determination to accomplish what he wants to accomplish," he says of the new volume, which depicts Johnson maneuvering politicians as if he were playing chess.

Whereas Caro had originally intended his life of Johnson to be a two-volume work, he now assures that the fourth volume will be the last. To explore the world of Johnson's presidency, he and Ina (Caro's partner in research as well as marriage) plan to live in a small southern city to investigate the effects of Johnson's civil rights legislation on African Americans and visit Southeast Asian communities that were bombed during the Vietnam War to witness the fallout from his presidency.

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Master of the Senate 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
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The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3: Master of the Senate by Robert A.Caro (published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) A Review by Chris Forse Imagine a political biography in three parts, the third of which appears twelve years after the second and the second eight years after the first. The three volumes represent thirty years of endeavour by its author. Its subject is an unlovely and unloved former President of the United States. The third volume of nearly 1100 pages, covering a 12 year period, far from completing his life story, does not even take us to his election to the (ostensibly) two most powerful positions in the United States ¿ the Vice Presidency and the Presidency. And this trilogy is no labour of love. It is not even a `warts and all¿ biography, rather it is all warts. The subject is Lyndon Baines Johnson (aka LBJ), the 36th US President. The third volume of Robert A Caro¿s triptych The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate, covers his years in the US Senate from 1948-60. Having been entirely captivated by the first two volumes The Path to Power (1982) and Means of Ascent (1990) I did despair of ever seeing a final product. The arrival of the massive third (but not final) volume, being a study of the workings of the US Senate, hardly stimulated a desire to return to a long-abandoned pursuit. But a reading of its first twenty pages changed all that. For here he was again, in all his volcanic, profane, ruthless, driven, hyper-sensitive nakedness: urinating in the senate car-park, defecating while dictating memos to his secretary, molesting a female passenger while driving his car (with his wife), and handing out the `treatment¿: bullying, cajoling, charming his senatorial colleagues in pursuit of this or that cherished goal. Johnson not so much lives in these pages, he threatens to leap out, grab you by the lapels and envelope you in a fraternal embrace. Few political biographies have been so lauded and yet so damned by the critics in academia and the media, as Caro¿s first two volumes. To some he sets standards against which all future political biographies should be measured. To others he is a just a muck-raker, whose overt hatred of his subject, disqualifies him from serious consideration as a writer of History. Few, however, dismiss his quite awesome research and the vivacity and passion of his writing. I veer to the former view, for despite the obvious relish with which Caro exposes the inconsistencies of this elemental figure, there remains both compassionate for the man, and deep respect for his achievements. He is, in this third volume, the greatest US Senator of the last century, a genius no less. He was the man who, by dint of will, transformed a genteel (and reactionary) debating chamber into a great engine of legislation and reform. A man who quite literally stole his election to the Senate in 1948, and ingratiated himself with the southern racists who regarded the Senate as a dam resisting any attempt to bring the fruits of liberty and equality to the nation¿s 18 million black people, and yet became the engineer of the first Civil Rights Act in 75 years. Along the way he destroyed a great liberal public servant by smearing him as a communist even before McCarthy¿s emergence, `lobbied¿ on behalf of Texas oil barons with envelopes stuffed with hundred dollar bills, while breaking successively the `rule¿ of seniority that reserved key committee chairs for the most reactionary and racist members of the Senate, and the power of the filibuster which made any serious consideration of reform impossible. What drove him was an unparalleled determination, present since his youth, to be the first southerner elected to the office of the presidency since the civil war. His will was seared in the barren Hill Country of West Texas, in indescribable poverty (brilliantly evoked in a Steinbeckian chapter entitled The Sad Irons in volume one), and in the humiliations inflicted upon his father, a s
Guest More than 1 year ago
LBJ- is the noble and motivated president who gave birth to the Great Society and the resultant culture that blossomed into our world today. The pivotal legislation of the 1957 Civil Rights act and the disability Programs that still define all that is good in our nation today, is brought to life with a fresh breath of air by Robert A. Caro for a provocative reassessment of the greatest president of the last century. Caro brings the reader to live in the senate the years leading up to LBJ's tenure allowing us a glimpse of what it must have felt for the ambitious LBJ entering this unknown world. In fact, the greatest asset of this wonderful publication is the fact that we can understand the complexity of LBJ¿s gregarious personality as if he were sitting and conversing in the same room as you. However, if you think that Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh are actual news programs, most likely the ability to comprehend the positive impact that men and women of this generation gave to our nation as expressed through the contributions of their president will be less than understandable. For them perhaps the grass is greener in the 'Hooverville' of Goldwater¿s nascent dreams.
Seghetto More than 1 year ago
Robert Caro has done it again with his latest addition to the Years of Lyndon Johnson Series. The amount of research put into even the most minute details of the senate experience come through in the account of Johnson's time as the youngest ever Majority Leader of the Senate. The attention spent on explaining the parliamentary maneuvers involved in the 1957 Civil Rights Act getting passed make the book more than just a biography about Lyndon Johnson. There is also a view of Lyndon Johnson and how he dealt with issues of the time. Caro portrays Johnson in a very even manner. While the power Johnson had over the Senate was unrivaled by anyone previously, we see from Caro's account that Johnson also played the political game like no one else had in history. The book is superbly written and even something that might seem as boring as the parliamentary procedure of the Senate comes alive with Caro's gift as a biographer. Many events of Johnson's career that do not play a significant role in how he is remembered (The Leland Olds Renomination hearing) are described in microscopic detail. If you are a reader at all interested in politics, civil rights, senate history, political science, works of great biography, or Lyndon Johnson then this book will be a treat.
kbergfeld on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As the fifth person to the read the copy of the book I had, it fell apart at the seam, but the story just kept getting better. Having no experience of the times when LBJ ruled DC, Caro's series gives me the opportunity to not only understand the concepts that existed, but his descriptions go so far as to have me imagine the smell of the Senate Chamber. I cannot wait for the fourth and final book in this series.
labwriter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Robert Caro is a master of the biographer's craft. I would read ANYTHING he writes. I've read all three and can't wait for the fourth volume. Caro is 73 years old this year (I can't believe it, but I guess it's true since he's been working on this project for some 30 years). A fairly recent Newsweek article ("Marathon Man," 7 Feb 2009) about Caro and Vol. 4 says he doesn't use a computer. How is that possible? On one wall of his office is a "giant outline--20 pages that get Caro from the beginning to the end of each book." His wife Ina helps him with his research: "I know what he's looking for without him telling me." Whether you care all that much about Johnson or not (Caro will make you care), if you enjoy biographies, you owe it to yourself to read not only this Volume 3, but the other two books as well. Then you'll be ready for Volume 4 which is sure to be as great a book as the others.
jensenmk82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's amazing! After reading 2,260 pages about LBJ, the man remains mysterious... This volume could be read on its own, as Caro gracefully integrates the findings of his earlier volumes into this one. But it's much better to begin with Volume One -- particularly as Volume Three begins with a lengthy history of the Senate that might have been better relegated to an appendix or published as a separate volume. Caro's organizational talents are remarkable parceling the various aspects of Johnson's life in different parts of the book. But he always remains the scrupulous historian, and does not purport to explain what he doesn't know -- for example, what it was in the spring of 1957 that caused him to dedicate himself to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, after for months seeming to abandon that cause. This is a glorious work of history, but one with many dark shadows.
brianjayjones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Think the legislative process sounds boring? Think again. Using the crafting and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to frame the story of Johnson's Senate years -- during which he practically invented modern Senate procedure -- Caro makes lawmaking look downright dramatic. Which it is, especially when the stakes are so high. Johnson doesn't come across as a hero in the practical sense -- he's a boor, unfaithful to his wife, an opportunist, and, at times, doesn't appear to have any real core beliefs. Whether it's speaking to Southern senators with a deep drawl before turning around and talking to New England progressives without a hint of an accent, or kissing the appropriate backsides to secure plum committee assignments and roles in the Senate leadership, Johnson appears to bend his own personality -- as well as the personalities of others -- to fit his own purposes. But whether you like him or not, he understood politics, and process, like no one else before him (and perhaps better than any since). And once he became committed to a cause, he was a dangerous man to cross; no one could kick your teeth in quicker using parliamentary procedure than Lyndon Johnson. You'll genuinely cheer when he finally steers the Civil Rights Act to final passage. Caro ends the book with a cliffhanger, as Johnson angles toward the Vice Presidency -- and Caro's next book will take things from there. Don't rush things, Caro, but really, hurry up, won't you?
patience_crabstick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yikes! 1040 pages! In the third volume of his biography, Johnson as just been elected senator for Texas, and immediately starts working to procure as much power as possible. When I read how LBJ smeared Leland Olds as a communist, I wished that dueling were still socially acceptable. Perhaps if it were, politicians would think twice before attacking others' honor in such an execrable manner. And yet, one builds up a grudging respect for LBJ as the book progresses. He knew how politics worked--and from reading about his maneuvers I learned a lot more about it as well--and successfully steered a course between conservative Southern democrats and liberal northern democrats to get a civil rights bill passed. A weak and meaningless bill, to be sure, but LBJ saw it as the thin edge of the wedge, paving the way to to a more effective civil rights bill in the 1960s. I confess, I skimmed a lot, but some chapters, such as those about the struggles of blacks to exercise their right to vote, are fascinating and horrifying. There is still another volume to come, since this one ends just as LBJ has been elected VP.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best biographies out there, of anyone. Caro is a masterful craftsman.
watkd25 More than 1 year ago
It was supposed to take me 10-14 days to read this book, instead it took me about 22-25 days to complete. The story continues with Lyndon Johnson's rise to power starting in 1949 when Johnson becomes a senator. Throughout his years in the senate, as the political genius Robert Caro claims him to be, he becomes the youngest Minority Leader and also became the youngest Majority Leader. In the process of doing so, he needed to get respect from southern senators and some of his supporters that were oil and natural gas barons. This required him to destroy Leland Olds' reputation which was I personally was quite disgusted with. But by becoming the Senate Majority Leader, Johnson was able to penetrate through what Robert Caro describes as an impenetrable dam to help pass--for the first time in 82 years--a civil rights bill. Moreover, when reading about the Civil Rights Bill of 1957's passage, Robert Caro vividly describes through meticulous research how Johnson was able to get the necessary votes so that it realistically could pass. The book was vivid in the sense that the endpapers of the hardcover version have pictures of what the senate chamber looks like currently (front) and what it used to look like in 1810-1859 (back). The endpapers helped me picture in my mind what was going on as in the book the author describes senators and where they were sitting or standing and what they were saying. Robert Caro rightfully deserved the Pulitzer Prize for this book because he used an exponential amount of research for this book and the amount of research is evident throughout the book because of the amount of detail. Expect to have an increased vocabulary knowledge base. As with the other volumes, you will need a dictionary. I recorded that in my journey of reading through "Master of the Senate," 613 words which include: general grammar terms, people, architectural terms, theatrical plays, laws, events, books, political terms, and terms regarding parliamentary procedure will need to be reviewed in a dictionary or looked up on the internet because I am unfamiliar with such terms. Expect to have a better understanding of Representatives and Senators in regards to how long their terms last and what authority has been vested to them by the constitution. The analogy of the senate being an impenetrable dam is important to understand, it is very relevant and will be explained throughout the book as the bigger picture. Expect to dedicate many hours to this book. Make room on your bookshelf for this book! Interesting facts: The author reviewed through 1,665,000 documents that consisted of: newspaper clippings, transcripts, office documents, and other forms of documentation. About 240 books were cited in the bibliography and the author conducted 263 interviews for this book. All this information in in the Debts and Note on Sources section. Democratic Senators were reading this book trying to figure out how to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
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Years ago I devoured David McCullough's superb biography of Harry Truman, and ever since have held it in the highest esteem as the best book I have ever read. Well, make room at the top for Robert Caro’s third volume on the years of Lyndon Johnson. Caro tells his story like no one else. Like its two predecessors (The Path to Power [#1] and Means of Ascent [#2]), “Master of the Senate” [#3] is meticulously researched and documented. But more skillfully than ever before, Caro now takes a quantum leap forward as a writer and historian in this massive work. The first hundred pages is perhaps the best history of the United States Senate ever written. Robert Caro has spent his lifetime writing just 5 books – four of which are about this man who raises himself up from his humble beginnings in the hill country of Texas to lead the country through a watershed period of time in history. Don’t be put off by the massiveness of this historic biography. You’ll find that Caro’s style of writing will be as compellingly written as any novel.
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