Skip to content

Volume Five On The Way—Robert Caro To Complete LBJ Series

June 4, 2017

Robert Caro surely has many passions in life.  But to outsiders it would appear that there is only one thing that has dominated his career.  That being the life and times of Lyndon Baines Johnson. As we patiently wait for the last installment of The Years of Lyndon Johnson — what makes up perhaps the greatest political biography series ever written–and I can not think of any other that could rival that honor–the Paris Review runs a great interview with author Caro.

Since 1976, Robert Caro has devoted himself to The Years of Lyndon Johnson, a landmark study of the thirty-sixth president of the United States. The fifth and final volume, now underway, will presumably cover the 1964 election, the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the launch of the Great Society, the deepening of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the unrest in the cities and on college campuses, Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection, and his retirement and death—enough material, it would seem, for four ­additional ­volumes. If there is a question that annoys Caro more than “Do you like Lyndon Johnson?” it is “When will the next book be published?”

I can’t start writing a book until I’ve thought it through and can see it whole in my mind. So before I start writing, I boil the book down to three paragraphs, or two or one—that’s when it comes into view. That process might take weeks. And then I turn those paragraphs into an outline of the whole book. That’s what you see up here on my wall now—twenty-seven typewritten pages. That’s the fifth volume. Then, with the whole book in mind, I go chapter by chapter. I sit down at the typewriter and type an outline of that chapter, let’s say if it’s a long chapter, seven pages—it’s really the chapter in brief, without any of the supporting evidence. Then, each chapter gets a notebook, which I fill with all the materials I want to use—quotations and facts pulled from all of the research I’ve done.

INTERVIEWER: Did you grow up in a house full of books?

CARO: No. My mother got very sick when I was five, and she died when I was eleven. My father was a Polish immigrant. He wasn’t really a reader. Books were not part of the house, but my mother, before she died, had my father promise to send me to Horace Mann. When I think of my childhood, it’s Horace Mann.

I was the editor of the school newspaper. Every Friday, I’d take a trolley up to Yonkers with a rotating cast of the other editors. We’d get off at Getty Square, take all our copy over to a Linotype shop, and then we would stay there while the hot type came out, and when the page was complete they’d ink it and put a piece of paper over it with a roller, and that’s how you’d read it.

The nicest thing that’s happened to me, really, is that four years ago Horace Mann said they wanted to name a prize after me. I said that would be great, so long as they made it for something that I really wanted to be studied. And they said, Well, what is that? I said, I want students to learn that writing, the quality of the prose, matters in nonfiction, that writing matters in history. So they created the Robert Caro ’53 Prize for Literary Excellence in the Writing of History. My wife, Ina, is always saying, when I win awards, You’re not excited. I say, I’ll pretend to be excited if you want. It’s like those awards are happening to somebody else, you know? But to go back up there to that school that I loved and to see tacked up on the door of every classroom, DEADLINE FOR THE CARO PRIZE—you say, My God, that’s exciting.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: