cornpone in camelot


Robert Caro’s life of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-73) is not the usual decorative pap we get from chroniclers of kings and queens, and the power and scale of US politics makes books about Dalton, Macmillan or Heath seem like small change, however amusing the snide and snooty anecdotes. There has certainly been much excitement about this book among the British political class, with several political columnists lavishing praise on Caro’s work. Fans include Michael Howard, George Osborne and William Hague. Even Bill Clinton reviewed The Passage of Power in glowing terms for the New York Times. Caro’s massive biography is the book many politicians would take to their desert island. They will need a big bag, for so far there have been three brick-sized volumes, with the most recent instalment taking LBJ just over the threshold of the Oval Office by about three months. At seventy-six years of age, Caro promises just one final volume on LBJ’s presidency, but his publisher should probably steel himself for more. It is not difficult to see why this is the politicians’ political book of choice. It is not some ephemeral confection that evaporates in the mouth like blancmange or candyfloss; rather this is the literary equivalent of a mouthful of chewing tobacco, politics as it is experienced blow by blow, hour by hour. It’s a slow, vaguely narcotic chew.

more from Michael Burleigh at Literary Review here.