Thursday, August 04, 2016

I've read the Ring Cycle of political biographies. Do I get a badge?

Robert Caro started writing 'The Years Of Lyndon Johnson" in the early 80s. His plan was to be able to cover the President's whole life and times in three volumes. Then he decided that wasn't enough. He's now published four volumes and is working on a fifth. I first tried reading it in the early 90s and gave up. In fact I even took one volume to the charity shop in one of my periodic attempts to thin out my books.

Earlier this year, encouraged by having read a few other presidential biographies, I bought the volumes I didn't have and on holiday I just finished reading the fourth, "The Passage Of Power". The third volume, "Master of The Senate", was so heavy that I bought a book stand to hold it as I read it. And guess what? It's an extraordinary piece of work. I can't wait for volume five, but I'm clearly going to have to.

I'm not going to recommend you should read it because I wouldn't want anyone to make that kind of commitment on my recommendation. I was discussing this with a friend while on holiday. My spirit increasingly rebels when people say "you must read this" or "you have to watch that." You should read or listen to or watch whatever gives you most pleasure. However, if you are in the market for 3,000 plus pages about the life and times of a man who was not all that pleasant but achieved a lot more than most of his better-known peers, here it is.


  1. Noted. I wonder if I might get through them in a single winter?

  2. Dear Martin.

    The answer to your question is yes if you are prepared to be kept up till 2 or 3am
    reading them. Two of the strengths of these book are narrative drive and the authenticity of the first person accounts. While LBJ died over 40 years ago Caro's team managed to interview many witnesses who were in their closing years. This biography will, among his other great books, define Caro's. As a piece of historical-political biography it is a monument to its kind.

    Next up,if you haven't read them, Taylor Branch's trilogy of the Martin Luther King years.

  3. Then I'll steel myself for the long haul. Have noted your recommendation for further reading. Cheers.

  4. Puts my trio of ghost written autobiographies read this year well and truly in the shade: Rod Stewart, Peter Marinello and Billy Idol. The good, the bad and the ugly - some might say.

  5. Funny that this so quickly follows the post about there being no such thing as a piece of entertainment that's too short.

  6. re John Medd: The LBJ books are very popular with politicians, the Rod the Mod and Billy Idol bios less so I expect but they are on my 'to read' list. If the ghost-writer can capture the cadences of the subjects voice and speech then they can be successful.

    As for another footballer bio I'm less sure. I must have read half a dozen of them and they are all so remarkably similar. In fact only this week I was handed a battered paperback of Robin Friday's bio - I keep wanting to say Gavin! - but it will stay tucked behind the bar of my local for a while yet I think.