From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson: an unprecedented gathering of vivid, candid, deeply revealing recollections about his experiences researching and writing his acclaimed books.
Now in paperback, Robert Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces. He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses and to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses' Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ's mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of working in solitude, he found a writers' community at the New York Public Library, and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books.
Caro recalls the moments at which he came to understand that he wanted to write not just about the men who wielded power but about the people and the politics that were shaped by that power. And he talks about the importance to him of the writing itself, of how he tries to infuse it with a sense of place and mood to bring characters and situations to life on the page. Taken together, these reminiscences--some previously published, some written expressly for this book--bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.
About the Author
For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, ROBERT A. CARO has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, twice won the National Book Award, three times won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Francis Parkman Prize. In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Caro the National Humanities Medal. Caro graduated from Princeton, was later a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and worked for six years as an investigative reporter for Newsday. He lives with his wife, the writer Ina Caro, in New York City, where he is at work on the fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
“A short book that packs a big wallop . . . Stunningly incisive . . . James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson is generally considered to be the finest biography in the English language . . . Robert Caro’s monumental works . . . are every bit as impressive as what Boswell achieved. Even more so, actually. . . Caro’s unrelenting pursuit of facts and his insights will leave you in awe . . . After reading this brief, brilliant book, one can only say, ‘Wow!’” —Steve Forbes, Forbes Magazine
“Caro brings [Johnson] and his time to life with a set of literary strengths that are very different from each other but closely interlinked: the depth and quality of his research, his narrative gift, and his compassion . . . Compassion drives the research. The analysis, always rigorous, is also human . . . Caro is both historian and creative writer; like Tolstoy, relating his narrative to a single central vision while at the same time, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, pursuing ‘many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory.’ He creates character as a novelist does . . . And the roundness of character extends to a large cast, not just Johnson’s huge, domineering personality but other towering figures as well as ordinary American citizens . . . The result is a great biography that has both historical sweep and a feeling of being of the time . . . Long live Robert Caro.” —Kevin Stevens, Dublin Review of Books
“Iridescent, so many brilliant refractions of light from his hard slog of discovering what life has really meant for the people in his narratives, the powerful and the powerless . . . Caro wanted the reader to feel for them, empathize with their ambitions and their torments. At 83, in book after book and now in this semi-memoir, he has succeeded to a breathtaking degree . . . How Caro finds what he needs to know . . . is par for the author’s tenacity, his charm and his investigative genius, no other word for it . . . Nearly 200 years ago, James Madison commanded that a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. Robert Caro . . . has performed great deeds in that cause, but he has also measurably enriched our lives with his intellectual rigor, his compassion, his openness, his wit and grace.” —Harold Evans, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
“Riveting.” —Richard Lambert, Financial Times
“Caro’s work is the gold standard of deep-dive biography; he has become an almost mythic figure, relentless in the ever-elusive pursuit of truth. In Working, he shares tips on researching, interviewing and writing, showcased in wonderful, revealing, often funny anecdotes . . . Its real theme goes far beyond authorial tradecraft. Caro’s own life has been an epic of human endeavor, a tale of obsession . . . Writing truth to power takes time.” —Evan Thomas, The Washington Post
“America’s biographer-in-chief . . . charts his own extraordinary life.” —Aryn Braun, The Economist
“Priceless.” —Dennis J. McGrath, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Compelling . . . A feast for anyone interested in reading, and in writing . . . A glimpse inside the head, and the work, of one of the great masters of contemporary nonfiction . . . Might be regarded as the path to writing with power.” —David Shribman, Los Angeles Times
“An inspiring window into the seemingly superhuman reporting, researching, writing, patience, and above all, will-power that have empowered Caro’s reinvention of the political biography and history genre.” —Scott Detrow, NPR
“America’s most honored biographer . . . has paused in the work of the final volume [of The Years of Lyndon Johnson] to publish a conversational, behind-the-scenes compendium addressing the questions he hears most often, starting with, Why do your books take so long to write?” —Karl Vick, Time
“Insightful . . . A look at the writing craft from a true master of the form.” —Mackenzie Dawson, The New York Post
“An invaluable how-to for aspiring nonfiction writers and journalists. It’s an intimate glimpse into the anxieties and painstaking sacrifices that go into the ridiculously in-depth reporting Caro has made his name on.” —Quinn Myers, Chicago Review of Books
“Relevant to today’s readers . . . Reveals a lot about Caro as a storyteller, reveals his thoroughness . . . But it’s not just the research or time that set him apart. It’s his ability to use research to make his story feel personal . . . Caro makes his stories almost novelistic, giving his readers a character to relate to. He recognizes that these details matter, that colorful, seemingly extraneous facts don’t just sentimentalize the story—they deepen it . . . A key to Caro’s philosophy: the facts are crucial, they are necessary, they are the best way to settle competing versions of the truth—but they still aren’t enough . . . This explains why Caro is so good at including outsiders and overlooked voices in his books. Caro’s writing [is] an in-depth look at a complicated subject from multiple angles, all anchored by a human narrative.” —John Schneider, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Caro is secure in the modern pantheon of American historians and biographers . . . he has become a symbol of both heroic purpose and snaillike progress . . . Working is full of exemplary tales . . . some of his tricks of the trade.” —Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal
“Working gives insight into one of the most celebrated minds in American letters.” —Nicole Goodkind, Newsweek
“Compelling . . . The quintessential biographer’s instruction manual . . . A peek inside the mind of America’s foremost political biographer.” —Erik Spanberg, The Christian Science Monitor
“Fascinating . . . For writers [and] for anyone whose life’s mission could benefit from a lesson in thoroughness, patience and perseverance.” —Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“If I were teaching journalism or nonfiction writing, especially the writing of history and biography, I would build a course around Caro, with Working as my primary text and scenes from his Johnson books as case studies . . . It’s possible that he is all the education that a writer in this line of work requires . . . Caro’s central secret is that, if facts matter in the writing of history and biography, then writing matters, too: that words matter, the aura and attitude of the language, the skill and power of its formulation . . . The drama of character and ideas in Caro’s books have a radiance about them because they are the product of a remarkably integrated mind.” —Lance Morrow, City Journal
“Extraordinary . . . The wonder of Robert Caro . . . the investigative method of a great biographer and writer . . . As a young reporter he made a decision about who he was and what he wanted at the centre of his life—a decision from which he has not wavered. Several times in Working he describes himself making a consequential decision and feeling that he had no choice, that he had to do what was true to his nature. His nature is that of the Recording Angel . . .” —Ruth Scurr, The Times Literary Supplement
“Robert Caro is one of the most respected historians of our time. His memoir is a masterclass in how great books are built, and is peppered with great anecdotes about people of power.” —Town & Country
“Robert Caro is brimming with wonderful advice about researching, interviewing, and writing . . . I was thrilled to devour Working in one sitting.” —Devon Ivie, Vulture
“A book about what makes great writing.” —Steve Nathans-Kelly, New York Journal of Books
“This engrossing and unexpectedly moving essay collection fully illuminates why and how Caro has spent so many years working on his massive, contextually intricate, and courageous biographies . . . masterpieces of fact-gathering, analysis, and artistry. In humorous, rueful, often flat-out astonishing anecdotes, he recounts his early newspaper days and the sense of mission that drove him, with the unshakable support of his historian wife and investigative partner, Ina, to devote his life to the daunting task of illuminating the nature and impact of political power. As he elucidates his commitment to creating biographical history of conscience and resonance, Caro affirms the larger significance of factual precision, empathy, and expressive verve.” —Booklist (starred)
“Superb . . . Writing with customary humor, grace, and vigor, Caro wryly acknowledges the question ‘Why does it take so long’ to produce each book. Caro provides both the short answer—intensive research—and a longer, illuminating explication of just what that entails . . . The results may take longer, but, as readers of Caro’s work know, it is always worth the wait. For the impatient, however, this lively combination of memoir and non-fiction writing will help sate their appetite . . .” —Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)
“The iconic biographer . . . offers wisdom about researching and writing . . . In sparkling prose, Caro . . . recounts his path from growing up sheltered in New York City to studying at Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia to unexpectedly becoming a newspaper reporter and deciding to devote his life to writing books . . . The author shares fascinating insights into his research process in archives; his information-gathering in the field, such as the Texas Hill Country; his interviewing techniques; his practice of writing the first draft longhand; and his ability to think deeply about his material. Caro also offers numerous memorable anecdotes . . . Caro’s skill as a biographer, master of compelling prose, appealing self-deprecation, and overall generous spirit shine through on every page.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)