I have reviewed Robert Caro’s new book on Lyndon Johnson for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Link to the review is here:
I realize that my criticisms of Caro’s footnotes may seem petty. Ultimately, though, footnotes are what distinguish history from historical fiction, and Caro sometimes does not seem sufficiently concerned about that distinction. Others have similar concerns: here is Professor David Greenberg in the Washington Post:
“Caro’s ability to show these many sides of Johnson — good, bad, ugly — rebuts the rap that he paints his characters only in black and white. But if Caro’s personalities are multidimensional, they’re nonetheless overdrawn in a way that sows a nagging distrust. At any moment, he showcases only one element of Johnson (or of RFK, or of other characters); typically, it is a portrait of an extreme. The young Bobby Kennedy is not portrayed just as ruthless; one instance of ruthlessness after another is recounted, amid countless repetitions of the word “ruthless.””
Greenberg suggests that, a hundred years from now, Caro’s books will still be read for their literary qualities and details–but not viewed as authoritative biography of Johnson. I tend to agree.