Jim DiEugenio has a very good article at Consortiumnews about Robert Caro's latest book on LBJ, The Passage Of Power, which covers his years as Vice President and then President after Kennedy's assassination.
Caro has been writing volumes about Lyndon Johnson for a long time now. DiEugenio has done extensive writing and research on JFK, and calls Caro on his fawning bio. It's one thing to write a hagiography, it's another to cross the line into untruthfulness.
The vast majority of what Caro has written here seems to me quite questionable, especially in light of all the declassified documents that have become available about the Kennedy administration.
One thing that struck me was Caro’s reliance on secondary sources. The last installment of this series, Master of the Senate, was published a decade ago. So Caro had 10 years, and much money to dig into the two million pages of declassified files made available at National Archives II.
To be frank, he didn’t make much use of them. And the materials he did use are things that are quite easy to attain today. So much so that they are on You Tube, e.g. Johnson’s phone call with Sen. Richard Russell to cajole him into joining the Warren Commission.
But beyond that, some of the books Caro chose for his information on the Kennedy administration are surprising. Are we really to believe that the celebrated author could find time to read The Kennedys by Peter Collier and David Horowitz but he couldn’t find time to read JFK: Ordeal in Africa by Richard Mahoney?
That somehow Caro thought it was important to read Seymour Hersh’s discredited The Dark Side of Camelot, but it wasn’t important to read John Newman’s milestone work, JFK and Vietnam? With these choices made, one can see why Caro’s discussion of the Kennedy administration, although longer, is no more sophisticated or nuanced than the work of Chris Matthews.
Carl Zimmer is a very good science writer. His work shows up all over the place. He has a blog for Discover Magazine, and while I'm not sure what "Science Ink" is, he uncovers this great passage on Queequeg's tattoos in Moby Dick:
This tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.
I have never thought of tattoos in such a way. An incredible passage. Are all tattoos at some level a glimpse into eternal mysteries? Do we all carry scars, visible or invisible, that are clues to the mysteries of the universe? Probably not, or maybe at some level we don't immediately discern.