Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing.
Robert A. Caro.
Knopf. 207 pp. $25.00.
This historian turning his anecdotes inward is interesting to hardcore Caro-ites, like this writer. The how and the why are answered. The rules are simple: Marry the right woman (Ina Caro, a historian in her own right and Caro’s only researcher, needs her own published version of these stories). Turn every page. Ask thousands, What did you see? What did you hear? Now ask the questions repeatedly. Also simple is Caro’s origin story. He was a young Princeton grad who did well at Long Island Newsday when all of that mattered, and who, luckily for him, found the team that is now American literary legend: Lynn Nesbit and Robert Gottlieb. So for more than 50 years, Caro has been financially freed up to read, research, interview, and write about American political power. The winner of enough literary awards to weigh down a battleship, he can afford the incredible amount of shoe-leather that allows him to patiently find any buried truth or fact, anywhere. “Of course there was more,” he writes. “If you ask the right questions, there always is. That’s the problem.” Caro, who admits this book is a sort-of collection of memories and notes for a coming memoir, says biography must be a visual medium to be successful, and that “silence is the weapon” in interviews. The author’s real weapon is total immersion, and the lonely-by-necessity Lyndon Baines Johnson scribe makes many top-notch American presidential biographers into little more than weekend historians by comparison. The man who hates the unanswered question has decided to ask every single one, repeatedly if necessary, no matter how long, or where, it takes.