Bite Size LBJ

“Strong as was Lyndon Johnson’s compassion for the poor, particularly poor people of color, his deep, genuine desire to help them had always been subordinate to his ambition; whenever they had been in conflict, it had been compassion that went to the wall. When they had both been pointing in the same direction, however – when the compassion had been unleashed from ambition’s checkrein – then not only Lyndon Johnson but the cause of social justice in America had moved forward under the direction of this master of transmuting sympathy into governmental action.”

Robert Caro, 2012, The Years of London Johnson, Volume 4: The Passage of Power.

Bite Size LBJ

“Throughout LBJ’s life, in every institution of which he had been a part, a similar pattern had emerged: as he rose to power within the institution, and then, as he consolidated that power, he was humble – deferential, obsequious, in fact. And then, as the power was consolidated, solid, when he was in power and confident of staying there, he became, with dramatic speed and contrast, overbearing, domineering.”

Robert Caro, 2002, The Years of London Johnson, Volume 3: Master of the Senate.

Bite Size LBJ

“The grass had grown not over a season but over centuries. It wouldn’t have grown at all had it not been for fire – prairie fires set by lightning and driven by wind across tens of thousands of acres, and fires set by Indians to stampede game into their ambushes or over cliffs – for fire clears the land of underbrush, relentless enemy of grass. […] Even with the aid of fire, the grass had grown slowly – agonizingly slowly. […] It had grown slowly because the soil beneath it was so thin.”

Robert Caro, 1982, The Years of London Johnson, Volume 1: The Path to Power.


2014 Top Ten: Fun Books

IMG_2978Sometimes, in addition to the books I read for work, I also read things for less instrumental reasons, almost for pleasure, although the boundary is a bit fuzzy (in both directions). This is a list not so much of ‘best books’ of the year, more a list of the books associated with my favourite book-buying/book-reading experiences of the year.

1). Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacationbecause this is the kind of holiday I would like to take.

2). Let’s Talk About Love, by Carl Wilson, which is the best, and probably only, book about Celine Dion I am ever going to read.

3). Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavicmy favourite writer-whose-books-you-can-only-seem-to-buy-in-South-Africa.

4). The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll: Collected Music Writings 2005-09, by Robert Forster. I bought this for a couple of quid in Bristol, not knowing that he wrote music criticism, and discovered some new things to listen to as a result; I almost cried when reading his appreciation of co-Go Between, Grant McLennan.

5). James Salter’s Last Nightshort stories, no sentence of which can be read quickly, really good for reading in the bath.

6). Michael Tomasky’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, my first e-book, I read this in one sitting on a flight to New York city. There were not screaming crowds awaiting my arrival.

7). Gideon Haigh’s Ashes to Ashes. I have come to dislike most things about cricket, leaving one or two pleasures at the edges, like Mike Selvey in The Guardian, and Vic Marks on the radio, and Gideon Haigh; this is really only a collection of his daily newspaper columns of the 10 Ashes Tests of 2013-2014.

8). The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, by Robert Caro. This is a cheat, since I haven’t actually read all three of these this year, but I have been dipping in and out of each one, having read the fourth volume a couple of Christmas’s ago, and then seeing Bryan Cranston play LBJ in All the Way in March. The Bluecoat second-hand bookshop in Liverpool has had these three volumes sitting around for years, so I finally succumbed and got the lot for £20, a bargain).

9). The Portlandia Cook Book. I’ll give this a try, but nothing with pickles.

10). Simon Critchley’s Memory Theatre. I read this in two sittings, to and from Disneyland Paris on Eurostar, which seems appropriate in all sorts of ways.

Bite Size Theory: The Passage of Power

“Lyndon Johnson had grasped in an instant what needed to be done with Kennedy’s men and Kennedy’s legislation: his insight into the crisis and the rapidity of his response to it a glimpse of political genius almost shocking in its acuity and decisiveness.”

Robert Caro, 2012, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Volume 4, The Passage of Power, Bodley Head.