Anyone who considers themselves a Texan -- one that likes to read, at any rate -- should be federally mandated to read the three volumes in which Robert Caro traces the life of Lyndon Johnson.
The first book, Path to Power, is a fascinating primer on the Hill Country, on Sam Rayburn, on farm life in 1930s Texas when electricity was just a dream, and, of course, on LBJ's early life too. (The power-mad college years at San Marcos are a hoot.)
The second, Means of Ascent, introduces (somewhat controversially) a long-forgotten but once-legendary Texas governor, Coke Stevenson, as it tells the gripping tale of LBJ stealing the 1948 Senate election.
The third, Master of the Senate, begins with a concise but brilliant history of the Senate, and then goes on to tell how Johnson came to dominate it, with the help of Houston oilmen and businessmen like George R. Brown.
And the bad news, out today: Caro says the fourth volume -- somehow expected to cover the years as vice-president and president -- won't be out for "three or four years."
Three or four years? Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin.
It's been almost seven years since Master of the Senate; we need our fix.
And Caro's not getting any younger. He's 73.
But in the Newsweek profile that went online today, he sounds as determined as ever not to rush things:
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There may be a part of Caro that is never ready for people to read his work. At Knopf he is known for rewriting entire sections of his manuscript, not just in galleys but in actual proofed pages. He reads his published volumes with pain. He notes, with admiration, that the 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert was known to revise and mark up manuscripts even after they'd been published. "There's something to that," Caro says, "writing and continuing to find a way to say it better."
No one wants to be reminded that it was 12 years between Means of Ascent and the 1,000-page Master of the Senate.
But we were kinda hoping that 2010, at least, might bring the next, and final volume of a Texas masterpiece.
-- Richard Connelly