Robert Caro Reflects on Robert Moses, L.B.J., and His Own Career in NonfictionHistorians in the News
tags: LBJ, books, historians, Robert Caro, Robert Moses
If you read anything about American history and politics, you’ve got to know the name Robert Caro. He’s written about two politicians—just two—but both of them were masters in the art of wielding power. The first book was about Robert Moses, the city planner who shaped modern New York more than any human being. Then Caro began to write about Lyndon Johnson, who signed much of the key progressive legislation of the nineteen-sixties but also presided over the disaster in Vietnam. Caro has already published four volumes on Johnson’s life, with the fifth to come. And that book will cover the crucial years of the Presidency. But to call those books mere biographies kind of misses the mark. They’re so rich in detail, so accurate, and at the same time so broad in scope and dramatic that they’re more like epics of American life. Caro himself has become a kind of legend among nonfiction writers, and he’s just published a book called “Working.” It’s a gift, a collection of interviews and essays that talk about the craft of what he does.
Caro recently sat down at the McCarter Theatre, in Princeton, New Jersey, to speak with David Remnick.
I want to start at the beginning, Bob. Your first job out of college was as a reporter at the New Brunswick Daily Home News. And I’d like to know what you thought you were getting into, what you thought your life would be like as a newspaper reporter, what you wanted out of that job, where you thought you were going.
Well, I didn’t know it. Wherever I thought I was going wasn’t where I found myself. So the New Brunswick Home News then was tied in with the Middlesex County Democratic machine. In fact, it was tied in so closely that the chief political reporter was given a leave of absence each election season so he could write speeches for the Democratic organization. So I had just gone to work there, and he got a minor heart attack. But he wanted to be able to get that job back when he recovered, so he picked as a substitute the guy he thought would be most inept. And I went to work for the New Brunswick Home News for the Middlesex County Democratic machine, and I fell in with a very tough old political boss in New Brunswick. And for some reason he took a shine to me, and he took me with him everywhere. And every time I’d write a speech for one of his candidates, mayor or city council, that he liked, he’d take out this wad of fifty- and hundred-dollar bills. My salary at the time was fifty-two dollars and fifty cents a week. And he’d peel off quite a few bills and hand them to me. And I really liked that aspect of the job.
But, then, you want me to tell you how I left the job.
comments powered by Disqus
- Trump administration says joint UNC, Duke Middle East Studies program portrays Islam too positively
- What White Kids Learn About Race in School
- Frederick Douglass photos smashed stereotypes. Could Elizabeth Warren selfies do the same?
- Chronicling New York’s Muslim History
- New Documents Illuminate The University of Texas’s Secret Strategy to Keep Out Black Students
- Women Scientists Were Written Out of History. It’s Margaret Rossiter’s Lifelong Mission to Fix That
- Allen C. Guelzo Reviews Sidney Blumenthal's Latest Installment of His Biography of Lincoln
- What Reconstruction-Era Laws Can Teach Our Democracy: The NY Times Reviews Eric Foner's Latest Book
- Should historians read their own book?
- Cokie Roberts, Pioneering Journalist Who Helped Shape NPR, Dies At 75