Robert Caro is the author of one of the great political biographies – his 4 ( eventually to be 5) volumes on President Lyndon Johnson, works of quite extraordinary thoroughness famous for the huge amount of research he and his wife Ina ( his only researcher) carried out.
This book is a collection of previously published and new pieces and also covers how he wrote ( it took 7 years) his quite extraordinary biography of Robert Moses – the never elected, but immensely devious and uncaring official who build 627 miles of roads on New York and its suburbs as well as 7 major bridges.
There is a very powerful piece about how he decided to write about the effect of one of Moses’s expressways – a road which displaced meant the demolition of 54 apartment blocks – whereas an alternative route would have mean the demolition of 6. Moses could have slightly changed the route and affected far less people – but that would have displeased powerful Democratic politicians who secretly owned a building which would also have been demolished.
An example of Caro and his wife’s dedication to their craft is that in order to understand what LBJ’s upbringing in the very poor Texas Hill Country was like , they went to live there for 3 years – which also meant they built far better relations with LBJs relatives who began to tell them what his upbringing was really like – and how many of the stories about LBJs upbringing were falsified and what he was really like.
This is really a book for those who have enjoyed his biographies and what to understand how get gets his extraordinary results. It might also be of interest to aspiring journalists and biographers – though I imagine some may find it rather depressing to realise the extraordinary commitment the producing work of the quality of Caro’s requires.
If anyone wants to sample Caro’s work I would recommend the 2nd volume on LBJ Means of Ascent which focuses on how he won his Senate seat – in part by persuading Texans that his opponent ( the totally reactionary Coke Stevenson , was secret communist) and then by simply stealing the few hundred votes he needed to actually win. Despite that it’s a book anyone interested in running a successful election campaign should read !
To buy the book (or to go to Amazon) click here