Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hey ! Hey ! LBJ !

“The Years of Lyndon Johnson” by Robert A. Caro

Book One -- The Path to Power
Book Two -- Means of Ascent
Book Three -- Master of the Senate

The only reason I put “The Power Broker” above these three books about Lyndon Baines Johnson is that if you tell people you’ve read close to 3,000 pages about LBJ -- and you enjoyed it -- they’ll think you’re nuts. Okay, I’m nuts. They’re simply the best books I’ve ever read and I’m at a loss as to how I explain them.

The level of detail Robert Caro puts into his books is astounding. There’s a mini-biography of Richard B. Russell in there. If you don’t know who that is, walk around the Capitol one time and look for the Russell Senate Office building. Ditto with Sam Rayburn. There is an utterly fascinating section on the Commanche Indians in these books. Ever heard of Brown & Root ? Most people haven’t. But most have heard of Haliburton. KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root) is a subsidiary of Haliburton. Find out what happens when a smalltime Texas politician hooks up with a smalltime Texas contractor.

At times you find yourself wondering why Mr. Caro wonders off on such tangents and includes such excruciating details. After all, do we really care that Richard Russell pretended to be a Confederate solider as a child growing up in Georgia ? As it turns out, yes, we do. Without fail, Mr. Caro uses these little pieces of the puzzle to complete the picture of Lyndon Baines Johnson. While doing so, he is able to drag the slowest of his readers to an understanding of the times and the significance of his subject’s achievements. Robert Caro not only has the flick, he'll help you get it too.

LBJ was the first Southern President since the Civil War. For 98 years, the best and brightest politicians from the South knew the most powerful position they’d ever hold was leader of one of the Houses of the United States Congress. The fact that Lyndon Johnson overcame this barrier -- when the political giants of the era (Richard Russell and Sam Rayburn) couldn’t -- speaks volumes about the man. And yes, it does make you wonder.

I use this situation to pique the interest of my friends and tempt them into reading this series. If Mr. Caro is able to achieve the level of detail in his upcoming fourth book on LBJ -- his years as President -- he’ll settle the question of who really killed JFK. Okay, maybe not, but you know he'll have to address it.

In the meantime you’re left to ponder the irony of LBJ. Here was a man that was driven by a quest for power further than any of his generation. A man that fully understood power. He knew how to gain power and how to wield it. Sometimes unmercifully. And at the height of his power, after working years and years to gain it, what does he do ? Lyndon Baines Johnson, arguably as bigoted as any Southerner of his time, used his unparalleled understanding of power to ram the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

This vain, bigoted, profane, uneducated, power-hungry genius gave more power to the powerless than anyone since Abraham Lincoln. I can’t wait to read the rest of that story. Get busy reading these three books so you’ll be ready for the fourth when it comes out.

The Power of Caro

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro

It’s probably presumptuous for somebody that butchers the English language as I do to call a book a masterpiece...but this is a masterpiece. Check the reviews. Everybody says so.

Robert Moses built modern day New York. The parkways, freeways, the bridges and many of the buildings. Robert Caro details how he did it. The key word is “details.” Mr. Caro has a way of explaining the details that keeps them interesting and -- like a jigsaw puzzle -- shows you how they build a picture. Robert Caro most definitely has the flick.

Mr. Caro is able to walk the reader through the steps of building a bridge or an interstate. He shows how Robert Moses overcame every obstacle and bent every individual or group with the force his will. Bankers, politicians, unions and even Presidents. No person or group was so powerful that he couldn’t go through, around, under or over their heads. And each success only added to his power.

In short, a brilliant writer details the life of a brilliant builder.


Well...I can’t talk politics yet. Don’t want to talk about ATC. At least not the way I’m limited to talking about ATC. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain later.) I guess I’ll just have to talk about books.

I love books. It seems like I always have. I remember a time when I’d never leave the nonfiction section of the library. And then, in one of those little twists that life throws you, I found the world of fiction.

Believe it or not, I found this life-changing event in a throwaway class in public high school. Despite the fact that I love books, I’ve had a life long aversion to any school subject including the words “English” or “Literature.” So, I took the English classes that inflicted the least amount of torture on my brain. In this case, a class on best sellers.

The class was simple. Read a book -- any book from any bestsellers list -- and write a book report on it. One book a week. The first book I read was “Jaws” by Peter Benchley. (I bet you can’t read that without the theme song running through your head.) I was hooked. (pardon the pun) And then I found Michener (James A.) Who knew you could tell so much truth and impart such knowledge while writing fiction ?

I certainly didn’t. By the end of the class I was reading 2, 3 and sometimes 4 books a week. Anything and everything. Good books, bad books, trashy books -- any kind of books. I remember giving two grocery sacks full of paperbacks to a friend that was having knee surgery. (I also remember never getting them back.)

Which brings me to the point of this little posting: I love sharing books. Despite the fact that I’m trying to build my own personal library, I just can’t help talking about (and then loaning out) a good book. Be glad you don’t have to sit next to me at the dinner table after I’ve finished reading a particularly good book. But if you ever do, please bring my book back.

Without further ado, the best books I’ve read lately.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get the Flick

As you can probably guess, I was once an Air Traffic Controller. This blog won’t be about just air traffic control -- it won’t be about just anything -- but air traffic control (ATC) is a big part of my life.

Air Traffic Controllers have a unique ability to “see” airplanes in their mind’s eye. They use this “picture” to predict and plan for the future. This is known as having the flick. This “picture” is never perfect and it must be constantly updated with new information as the situation changes. When the amount of information becomes overwhelming and the mental model becomes so complex the controller can no longer maintain it, he is said to have lost the flick.

Controllers tend to lump people into three categories:

Those that have the flick -- aware, in charge or on the ball....

Those that lost the flick -- they're distracted or overwhelmed...

The 7UPs -- Never had it and never will.

So, what is this blog all about ? Anything I want it to be about. ATC, government, books, politics, world events, people -- in short, whatever crosses my mind. My only goal is to provide thoughts, ideas and information. Hopefully it will be something that helps you get the flick.

Don Brown
Fall 2006