Author Spotlight – Robert Caro Enters the Home Stretch

It’s only been about 40 years, but the grand conclusion to one of the major events in biographical publishing may be in sight – Robert Caro says he is almost finished writing about Lyndon B. Johnson.

Caro’s first work was The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, a biography of Robert Moses. Released in the early 1970s, Caro chronicled Moses’ use of his immense power in the New York City Public Works office to essentially create that city in his image. The book has won numerous awards, most notably the Pulitzer Prize.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York also had two cardinal features typical to all of Caro’s books: a fascination with the wielding of political power, and immense length. Moses flexed his political will in amazing ways, defying everyone (notably Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia) and generally winning. Caro chronicles every twist and turn in his career, making for a thorough accounting but a lot of pages. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York clocks in at 1,344 pages. The sheer size of the book will make you think twice about reading it, as well as making it rather pricey – the hardcover purchased at retail today is a budget crushing $65. These factors make for a long and expensive read, but also one of the best biographies of the 20th century.

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After finishing with Moses, Caro turned to President Lyndon Johnson. Perhaps no one used political power more ambitiously in the last century than Johnson, so his life drew Caro in deep. Caro is always thorough – you want to know how Johnson arranged furniture in his office to control access to one of his first bosses, Caro can tell you. Beginning in 1982, Caro has finished a portion of Johnson’s life roughly every ten years. The third volume, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 3: Master Of The Senate, won Caro a second Pulitzer Prize in 2002. Originally planned as a trilogy, Caro now will conclude the biography at five volumes.

Which leads us to the present moment in time. It has recently been announced that the fourth volume of the set, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, will release in May of 2012. It will cover the years 1858 to 1964, focusing on Johnson’s desire for the presidency, his difficult relationship with JFK, and finally his assumption of the presidency after Kennedy’s death. Running about 700 pages, this book is actually a bit small for Caro. As it covers a relatively triumphant portion of Johnson’s life, the book should be rather happier than the final volume.

So the grand question must be raised, when will the concluding volume 5 appear? If the pattern holds then the answer would be 2022. However, in a recent interview Caro stated that the research for the final work was essentially complete, and that he would be writing shortly. Caro estimated 3 to 4 years before it is released (11/2/11 AP report by Hillel Italie). I put the over/under on 2017 as the release date.

The thought of reading several thousand pages about any subject is extremely daunting, but when Caro finishes his work one of the truly great accomplishments in biography will have been given to the world. Now if we can just get Rick Atkinson to finish his Liberation Trilogy and 2012 will be a banner year in non-fiction.

By James R White

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