"The Passage of Power:
The Years of Lyndon
by Robert A. Caro
Robert Caro's continuing series of biographies on Lyndon Johnson will no doubt become the standard reference for students of his presidency. Yet many readers may notice that -- as this latest narrative regarding the "Dallas events" illustrates -- the tone of his work has shifted significantly from the earlier volumes. In the first volume, "The Path to Power," Johnson's hunger was "for power in its most naked form, for power not to improve the lives of others but to manipulate and dominate them, to bend them to his will ... a hunger so fierce and consuming that no consideration of morality or ethics, no cost to himself or to anyone else could stand before it."
Now we are treated to more flattering characterizations about Johnson ("coolness and decisiveness under pressure") and a dearth of new information about his "darker side." Many of the credible yet troubling accounts of Johnson's behavior after shots were fired at the motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963 have not survived Caro's apparent paradigm shift. He describes how Johnson (who refused to be deposed or to testify to the Warren Commission that he himself set up) remained "calm" throughout that harrowing event. No mention is made of Johnson's dour and nervous mood during the motorcade or how he hunched down at various times throughout, using the pretext of listening to a radio, as reported by William Manchester. Nor is any comment offered on author Steven M. Gillon's discovery that General McHugh found Johnson in the powder room of the aircraft carrying the dead president's body, "crying 'they're going to kill us all. It's a plot. It's going to kill us all' ... Johnson was hysterical, sitting down on the john alone." McHugh had to slap Johnson to get him to snap out of his meltdown. These claims have been ignored by Caro as if they did not exist.
The totality of such omissions is a very troubling development in Caro's work for anyone interested in the discovery of historic truths, portending yet another veiled attempt to rewrite real history and make it conform to a "lone nut" lie that a majority of Americans have already rejected in favor of a conspiracy that reached to the highest levels of government, into JFK's own cabinet and his top military and intelligence officials. Indeed, many of us have come to believe that it extended from his vice president's office as well.
-- Reviewed on amazon.com by Phillip F. Nelson
"The Civil War:
The Second Year"
editor Stephen Sears
(Library of America, $25)
The Library of America's second volume of its Civil War anthology, "The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It," covers 1862 and brings together a large -- nearly 900 pages -- collection of original source material: speeches, journalism, journal entries, letters and contemporary memoirs.
This volume is a compelling mosaic of a nation in extremis. I am not a Civil War historian but I found something of interest on nearly every page, as with the excerpt from Louisa May Alcott's "Hospital Sketches" that brings home the charnel house atmosphere of a battlefield hospital. You can almost hear the screams. The series is a major contribution to history.
by Scott Eyman
by Francesca Flores
d'Arcais (Abbeville, $135)
For me, Giotto was the first real artist. Considering that he lived nearly 800 years ago, that's saying something.
It wasn't his figure modeling, often as stiff as other figures in what was, after all, the Middle Ages. It was a combination of his colors, his perspectives and an emotional intensity that seems unparalleled for the period.
Abbeville has published a second edition of "Giotto," Francesca Flores d'Arcais' definitive book on the artist accompanied by 300 sumptuous color photographs of his finest work.
I've never been to Assisi so I haven't seen the Franciscan chapel said to contain some of his best art. But I have gazed in wonder at his frescoes in Santa Croce and other places in Florence, where he died in 1337, as well as at various museums.
He was a many-faceted talent; like Leonardo, he functioned as a jack-of-all-trades. Shortly before his death he was named master builder for the Duomo and he also designed the adjacent bell tower, which I've happily climbed.
This book itself is invaluable for the closeup it offers of frescoes and other works that can only be publicly enjoyed at a distance -- the better to examine the brushstrokes of a great artist gone for nearly eight centuries who still speaks to us.
by Scott Eyman
In the Pipeline:
The Free Press will publish Paul Sullivan's "The One Per Cent: What I Learned From the Richest People in the World and What They Can Teach You" ... Gallery Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, will publish "Weekends With Daisy" by Sharron Kahn Luttrel about her experiences raising a yellow Lab as a service dog in concert with Ryan, a man who spent half his life in jail. (The book has also been optioned for a movie) ... David Morrell, author of "First Blood" that was converted into the Rambo movies, is writing a period thriller for Mulholland Books: "Murder as a Fine Art" takes place in London in the early 19th century and concerns itself with a murderer who follows Thomas De Quincey's precepts as laid out in an essay that Morrell borrows for his title ... And the excellent historian David Reynolds will write "The Long Shadow: The Great War and the 20th Century" for Norton, a book that takes the position that World War I shaped not just the 1920s and World War II, but the world we live in today.