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by Robert A. Caro

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2941465,343 (4.42)8
"Short autobiography about author's processes of researching, interviewing, and writing his books"--



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Research, Interviews, Writing, note-taking, notebooks, newspapers, Robert Moses, Lyndon Johnson, LBJ, power, politics, nonfiction ( )
  margaretmontet | Jun 5, 2020 |
Musings and interviews about Caro’s life as a writer and chronicler of what it means to have power. He worked very hard to show people both the human costs and benefits of the exercise of power—Robert Moses’s destruction of thriving neighborhoods and thus of many of the people who lived there; LBJ’s transformation of the lives of rural Texas women who used to have to pull hundreds of gallons of water up from wells by hand, then transport those hundreds of pounds to their houses, every single day, through rural electrification. He tells a wonderful story about figuring out how LBJ went from random junior Congressman to a person that senior elected officials wrote to deferentially—in October 1940, he transformed and organized political donations from Texas businesses, putting more money into congressional campaigns around the country than had ever been available, but kept them firmly under his own control. LBJ had tried to keep most of this off the record, but just enough survived (sometimes mysteriously filed) for Caro to piece together the story. In the end, Caro says, power doesn’t necessarily corrupt, but “what power always does is reveal.” ( )
  rivkat | Feb 11, 2020 |
Caro’s book is ostensibly about two book subjects: city planner Robert Moses and politician Lyndon Johnson. The Johnson book is four volumes with the fifth supposedly on its way (although Caro is 84 years old, so whether or not it will actually come out is in doubt). Caro’s book is as much about the research and writing process as it is about the two men who are the subjects of his books. Caro goes into detail about how important it is to get his reader to “see” the settings he’s writing about, not merely know the place. He asks his interviewees to reconstruct their dealings with the people Caro is actually writing about. Often its a difficult process to get these people to put themselves back in the situations they’re talking about, but the tactic is effective and results in anecdotes that Caro uses to bring these scenes and people to life for his reader.
Caro’s book probably isn’t for everyone. I think it should be required reading in every journalism school and nonfiction writing program in the country. It would be as instructive to students as any textbook. I really enjoyed it. ( )
  DanDiercks | Feb 6, 2020 |
I'm not going to review this book for those who have already read one of this author's books on Robert Moses or Lyndon Johnson. Those readers are already familiar with his outstanding scholarship. This book will be more a very pleasant summary for them of what they experienced earlier. Rather, I am going to direct attention to two points the author makes in this brief but still enlightening work.

The first regards what this author brings to non-fiction in spades that avid fiction readers presumably assume never exists at all in non-fiction. "Rhythm matters. Mood matters. Sense of place matters. All these things we talk about with novels, yet feel that for history and biology to accomplish what they should accomplish, they have to pay as much attention to these devices as novels do." As exemplary as this author is at that, he is not the only one, in the least. There is outstanding non-fiction "writing" out there for those fiction-only readers to marvel over, if they will only look closely. And a big advantage that non-fiction has over fiction is that the reader can never find themselves saying, "Oh, that could never have happened like that", because, of course, in accurate non-fiction writing, it most definitely did happen, exactly that way.

Secondly, this author's major work is about power, how it works, how it is gained or lost, how it affects our lives for good and bad. To that, I will offer from this book: "Power doesn't always corrupt...But what power *always* does is reveal, because when climbing, you have to conceal from people what it is you're really willing to do, what it is you want to do. But once you get enough power, once you're there, then you can see what the protagonist wanted to do all along, because he's doing it." Can you think of anyone in today's world to whom this may apply? I can think of several, and not all of them tweet multiple times a day. ( )
  larryerick | Jan 24, 2020 |
Some great work stories from possibly the best biographer of all time. Reading this book the other night reminded me of one of the moments when a work of non-fiction gave me chills and made me cry.

It was Caro’s description of LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech to push the passage of the Voting Rights Act and Caro’s painting of the backdrop of that moment. Watching LBJ deliver that message to Congress on television, MLK apparently began to cry, one of the very few times the associates with him had seen him do so. It was an incredibly powerful moment in American history, in part because LBJ had been mistrusted (rightly) as an ally of — no, one of — the powerful bloc of segregationist Southern senators who ruled that body.

Here, [b: Working|26893816|Not Working|Lisa Owens|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1449076839i/26893816._SY75_.jpg|46817453] is noteworthy for its descriptions of the work that Caro did to make the struggles of African-Americans to obtain the vote before the Voting Rights Act vivid in our imaginations, so that we understand LBJ’s accomplishment. And it contains a short history of “We Shall Overcome,” of how it was spontaneously sung as the bodies of dead African-American children were carried out of bombed churches. And how it was sung in protest against LBJ as he drove to the Capitol to deliver his speech. And how Caro dragged out of LBJ’s aides a description of the incredibly tense car ride to the Capitol that night.
All of which made the moment when Caro tells us that LBJ sonorously declared during his speech, “And we shall overcome,” and moved MLK to tears, so powerful for me.

Caro has become a hero to me, for his work ethic and for his ability to use the fruits of that work to transmute what could be dry history into compelling art. His legendarily painstaking research enables him to create spellbinding stories about fascinating people and events. And [b: Working|26893816|Not Working|Lisa Owens|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1449076839i/26893816._SY75_.jpg|46817453] gives some sense of how he has done all that. ( )
  Robert_Musil | Dec 15, 2019 |
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