Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, Robert A. Caro 2019

Caro has taken a break from writing the fifth volume of his legendary biography of Lyndon B. Johnson to share with his wide readership a beautifully written little book about his working methods.  This two time Pulitzer Prize winning historian/biographer describes his research techniques (Turn every page!), his interview technique (Shut Up until the interviewee divulges the answers), and how he writes (1000 words/day written in long hand on legal size lined white paper and endlessly revised right up through the page proofs) in a wonderful introduction, a section on writing about Robert Moses in the Pulitzer Prize winning The Power Broker (1974), a section on writing the Johnson series, and a few random brief chapters (one about his writing room at the New York Public Library and one about his interviewing technique).  This reader came away somewhat awe-struck at the time, effort, perseverance, stubbornness, and sheer will that Caro has exhibited from his days at Horace Mann and Princeton, through his time as a newspaper reporter for Newsday, and to the present esteemed status as one of  our time’s great biographers.  One reason to read this book beyond the beauty of its prose and the wonderful insight into writing that it gives is that one gets a capsule portrait of both Moses and Johnson without having to read the 1000’s of pages in these books.  Two more fascinating and tough characters would be hard to imagine as Caro pursued his query into what makes political power and how it is wielded for both good and for evil.  As he enters his early 80’s Caro has become more realistic about the likelihood of finishing the fifth volume as well as a full length memoir that he has long planned, so he has provided this briefer volume for his many devoted readers.  Ironically, some of them are apparently angry that he has taken time away from the LBJ effort to write this book.  I’m betting he makes it to the finish line with all his goals met. This child raised by a Jewish immigrants in NYC is one tough and very brilliant man.  Great book!

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