The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson by the American writer Robert Caro. Four volumes have been published, running to more than 3,000 pages in total, detailing Johnson's early life, education, and political career. A fifth volume is expected to deal with the bulk of Johnson's presidency and post-presidential years. The series is published by Alfred A. Knopf.
In the first volume, The Path to Power, Caro retraced Johnson's early life growing up in the Texas Hill Country and working in Washington, D.C. Caro's research included renting a house in Hill Country for three years, living there much of that time, to interview numerous people who knew Johnson and his family, and to better understand the environment in which Johnson had grown up.
This volume covers Johnson's life through his failed 1941 campaign for the United States Senate. This book was released on November 12, 1982. It won the 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a finalist for the 1983 National Book Award, hardcover autobiography or biography.
|Means of Ascent|
Booknotes interview with Caro on Means of Ascent, April 29, 1990, C-SPAN
|Master of the Senate|
Washington Journal interview with Caro on the writing of his third volume, July 13, 1998, C-SPAN
|Interview with Caro on Master of the Senate at the Texas Book Festival, November 16, 2002, C-SPAN|
|Presentation by Caro on Master of the Senate at the Library of Congress, May 20, 2003, C-SPAN|
|Presentation by Caro on Master of the Senate at the National Book Festival, October 4, 2003, C-SPAN|
|The Passage of Power|
Q&A interview with Caro about the writing of his fourth volume, January 4, 2009, C-SPAN
|Part one of C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about the finished book, The Passage of Power, May 6, 2012, C-SPAN|
|Part two of C-SPAN Q&A interview with Caro about The Passage of Power, May 20, 2012, C-SPAN|
|Presentation by Caro on The Passage of Power at the National Book Festival, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN|
|Interview with Caro on The Passage of Power at the National Book Festival, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN|
|Interview with Caro on The Passage of Power, November 24, 2013, C-SPAN|
In the second volume, Means of Ascent, Caro detailed Johnson's life from the aftermath of Johnson's first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1941 to his election to the Senate in 1948. Much of the book deals with Johnson's bitterly contested Democratic primary against Coke R. Stevenson in that year. The book was released on March 7, 1990.
In the third volume, Master of the Senate, Caro chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent in United States Congress, including his tenure as Senate majority leader. This 1,167-page work examines in particular Johnson's battle to pass a landmark civil rights bill through Congress without it tearing apart his party, whose southern bloc was anti-civil rights while the northern faction was more supportive of civil rights. Although its scope was limited, the ensuing Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first such legislation since the Reconstruction era.
The book was released on April 23, 2002. It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, the 2002 National Book Award for Nonfiction, the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, and the 2002 D.B. Hardeman Prize.
In the fourth volume, The Passage of Power, Caro covers Johnson's life from 1958 to 1964, the challenges Johnson faced upon his assumption of the presidency, and the significant accomplishments in the months after Kennedy's assassination.
The 736-page book was released on May 1, 2012. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012; Biography), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2012; Biography), the Mark Lynton History Prize (2013), the American History Book Prize (2013) and the Biographers International Organization's Plutarch Award (2013). It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2012). It was selected as one of Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (non-fiction #2).
In November 2011, Caro estimated that the fifth and final volume would require another two to three years to write. In March 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume. As of April 2014, he was continuing to research the book. In a televised interview with C-SPAN in May 2017, Caro confirmed over 400 typed pages as being complete, covering the period 1964-65; and that once he completes the section on Johnson's 1965 legislative achievements, he intends to move to Vietnam to continue the writing process.
In an interview with The New York Review of Books in January 2018, Caro said that he was writing about 1965 and 1966 and a non-chronological section about the relationship between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. Asked if he still planned to visit Vietnam soon, Caro replied: "Not yet, no. This is a very long book. And there's a lot to do before that's necessary. I'm getting close to it now." In December 2018, it was reported that Caro is still "several years from finishing" the volume. In January 2020, Caro said he had "typed 604 manuscript pages so far" and is "currently on a section relating to the creation of Medicare in 1965". Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Caro postponed his research trip to Vietnam and a visit to the Johnson Presidential Library, but continued work on the book from his home in Manhattan.
Throughout the biography, Caro examines the acquisition and use of political power in American democracy, from the perspective both of those who wield it and those who are at its mercy. In an interview with Kurt Vonnegut and Daniel Stern, he once said: "I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," saying he wanted instead "to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times--particularly political power."
Caro's books portray Johnson as alternating between scheming opportunist and visionary progressive. Caro argues, for example, that Johnson's victory in the 1948 runoff for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate was achieved through extensive fraud and ballot stuffing, just as Johnson had lost his 1941 Senate race because his opponent stuffed the ballot boxes more than Johnson. Caro also highlights some of Johnson's campaign contributions, such as those from the Texas construction firm Brown & Root; in 1962 the company was acquired by another Texas firm, Halliburton, which became a major contractor in the Vietnam War. Despite these criticisms, Caro's portrayal of Johnson also notes his struggles on behalf of progressive causes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Politicians have responded strongly to The Years of Lyndon Johnson: