Working
From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson: an unprecedented gathering of vivid, candid, deeply revealing recollections about his experiences researching and writing his acclaimed booksFor the first time in his long career, Robert Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces. He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses; what it felt like to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses’ Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ’s mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of loneliness, he found a writers’ community at the New York Public Library’s Frederick Lewis Allen Room and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books. Caro recalls the moments at which he came to understand that he wanted to write not just about the men who wielded power but about the people and the politics that were shaped by that power. And he talks about the importance to him of the writing itself, of how he tries to infuse it with a sense of place and mood to bring characters and situations to life on the page. Taken together, these reminiscences–some previously published, some written expressly for this book–bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.

Working Details

TitleWorking
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 9th, 2019
PublisherPenguin Random House
ISBN-139780525656340
Rating
GenreLanguage, Writing, Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography, History, Biography Memoir, Politics

Working Review

  • Darwin8u
    January 1, 1970
    "Turn every page. Never assume anyhting. Turn every goddamned page"- Alan Hathaway, quoted by Robert Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingIt is weird to give a Caro book only four stars. I've read nearly everyhing (except the big Whale: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) he's writing and it seems nearly perfect. He is one of my favorite writers of nonfiction ever. His fanatacism to his craft is incredible. His old-school approach to research and writing is fanta "Turn every page. Never assume anyhting. Turn every goddamned page"- Alan Hathaway, quoted by Robert Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingIt is weird to give a Caro book only four stars. I've read nearly everyhing (except the big Whale: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) he's writing and it seems nearly perfect. He is one of my favorite writers of nonfiction ever. His fanatacism to his craft is incredible. His old-school approach to research and writing is fantastic. But still, I only gave this book four stars much for the same reason why I gave McPhee only four stars for his writing book - Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process: I've read too much of it before. A lot of both books were cobbled together from other pieces and previous books (for example: On Power). So, part of my four star review is due to my hunger and expectations for Caro (I want new and I want more) and part is due to Caro (not his strongest book, and not original). Even in this book, I think there were two (maybe three?) different sections where the story of Caro's wife selling their home to help finance The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York pops up. I know the story. I've read it before. So, by the last time it is mentioned in the book, I begin to feel it is as much about myth-making about Caro (and again, I'm a Caro acolyte, I BELIEVE the myth) as it is about his craft.
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  • Chris Molnar
    January 1, 1970
    This is an odds-and-ends collection that functions as a brief Making Of documentary companion to his epic (and essential) Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson biographies. The recent New Yorker excerpt is essentially a more narrative alternate version, seamlessly combining information from many of the brief essays into one continuous story. The book is more scattered and not as elegant, but all the additional information is equally fascinating and a real tease for whatever extended memoir he's workin This is an odds-and-ends collection that functions as a brief Making Of documentary companion to his epic (and essential) Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson biographies. The recent New Yorker excerpt is essentially a more narrative alternate version, seamlessly combining information from many of the brief essays into one continuous story. The book is more scattered and not as elegant, but all the additional information is equally fascinating and a real tease for whatever extended memoir he's working on. You see his unflashy yet profound belief in the power of "researching, interviewing and writing" in action, watching with him as a breakthrough with a subject or source material reveals the hidden crucial moments that change everything. There is something just as moving about watching Robert Caro in the process of sketching Moses' or Johnson's unparalleled ability to create and destroy as reading the finished product. Powerful political figures like them may shape our world, but it is writers like Caro who demystify them, who give the downtrodden a voice, who identify the ephemeral and arbitrary sources of power, of timeless possibility, and of the original sin baked into the American and by extension human experience. Usually I read fiction, and part of what appeals to me about Caro's work is how it articulates better than anything why writing is important, as important as any kind of politics. In the biographies that is shown by implication, but here it is explicit.This quote might sum it up - "While I am aware that there is no Truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts - through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing - can't be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time."
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  • Mehrsa
    January 1, 1970
    I think Caro is the greatest living writer out there (may he live forever--or until he finishes the last Johnson book). A lot of material in this book is old stuff--include in his other books or periodicals, but it's still wonderful to have it compiled in one place. My favorite essay in this collection was the one about importance of place where he talks about how living in the Hill Country and experiencing the barrenness of the land helped him understand Johnson's superhuman vote counting abili I think Caro is the greatest living writer out there (may he live forever--or until he finishes the last Johnson book). A lot of material in this book is old stuff--include in his other books or periodicals, but it's still wonderful to have it compiled in one place. My favorite essay in this collection was the one about importance of place where he talks about how living in the Hill Country and experiencing the barrenness of the land helped him understand Johnson's superhuman vote counting abilities and how Caro recreated his walk to the Hill at the exact time he was doing it so that he could understand why he would break out into a run every day on his way to work. I also love his work because it is human--he talks about how he needed to talk to the people who were hurt by Robert Moses, for example, to tell the full story. Now, please, for the love of God, Robert Caro, stop writing memoirs and GET BACK TO WORK.
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  • Kurt
    January 1, 1970
    Lately, a daily ritual for me is to offer a simple, silent supplication or prayer for two people of advanced age – two people I have never met, and whom I am sure I never will meet. I pray that they will live several more years in good health with continued mental acuity. Robert Caro is one of these people. At age 83 he is still a few years from finishing the fifth and final book in his series The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Eight to twelve years elapsed between the publication of each of the first Lately, a daily ritual for me is to offer a simple, silent supplication or prayer for two people of advanced age – two people I have never met, and whom I am sure I never will meet. I pray that they will live several more years in good health with continued mental acuity. Robert Caro is one of these people. At age 83 he is still a few years from finishing the fifth and final book in his series The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Eight to twelve years elapsed between the publication of each of the first four books in the series due to Caro's insistence on time-consuming, meticulous research and constant re-organizing and re-writing of the lengthy volumes. But the results are all masterpieces. I am currently more than halfway through Master of the Senate, the Pulitzer-prize-winning third book in the series.Caro's books are so much more than mere biographies. They tell the story of power in America – how power is won, how it has been wielded, how it has been maintained and lost, and how it has affected, for both good and for ill, those who have it and those who do not.In this relatively short memoir Robert Caro talks about his work. He gives several insightful and interesting anecdotes. He also describes the details of how he painstakingly obtains the information for his books, through countless interviews and (literally) millions of pages of reading, constantly reorganizing, deleting from, adding to, and rewriting his manuscripts until, years later, he achieves the final product – a published book that he is still and forever wanting to enhance and improve.I believe that if I had read the printed version of this book rather than having listened to the audio book, I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. The audio book is read by the author himself, in his slow, purposeful, New York accent. I loved how he pronounced “raw” and “law” as “rawr” and “lawr”. His wife Ina, whom he refers to frequently – always with obvious heartfelt love, respect, and devotion – he pronounces “Iner”. I cannot recommend Robert Caro’s books more highly. They are not light reading, but they are more illuminating than anything I have ever read before, and so well written. This memoir, however, could probably only be truly appreciated by those who have already had experience with Caro’s writing.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    What this does, more than anything, is make you appreciate the craft that Caro puts into his work. Most of these essays, interviews, and passages were printed elsewhere and have been collected into this short volume. Some are original to the book, though. He is also driven by a force which he isn't even able to identify to flesh out the lives, locales, and intricacies surrounding his subjects. Caro has written five biographies, not including this slim volume. Four are about Lyndon Johnson (he's What this does, more than anything, is make you appreciate the craft that Caro puts into his work. Most of these essays, interviews, and passages were printed elsewhere and have been collected into this short volume. Some are original to the book, though. He is also driven by a force which he isn't even able to identify to flesh out the lives, locales, and intricacies surrounding his subjects. Caro has written five biographies, not including this slim volume. Four are about Lyndon Johnson (he's working on the fifth) and the first about Robert Moses. With each he extensively researches, interviews, travels, and sometimes lives around the people that influenced his subjects. He is dogged, untiring, and he has a very understanding wife. In this, you learn about his process, which is defined most simply by some advice he received as a young reporter, "turn every page." As much as Caro and his research assistant (that same understanding wife) are able to, he sticks to this advice. He also writes in longhand, then typewriter, he outlines extensively (LBJ's book five has a 27 page outline), has notebooks for each book chapter, and walks to work every morning dressed in a suit and tie to prove to himself that, though he doesn't have deadlines, he is going to work. When he interviews, asks the same question over and over, over several interviews, until new details emerge. "What did you see?" "What did you hear?" He also remembers to be silent, to let the silence grow, so his interviewee fills that silence with information. When he struggles to stay quiet, he writes in his reporter's notebook "SU" for shut up. I'm not sure much of this is helpful to the average writer, but it does illuminate the man more than one would expect. We find that as driven as his two subjects are, he is just as driven, by what? To illuminate political power, to teach us how it works, to expose the pieces so that we become better informed. Also to appreciate that, however destructive political genius can be (displacing half a million low income people in New York City, Vietnam), it can also build (civil rights, highways, parks, healthcare, etc.)As someone who has not read Caro's biographies, I enjoyed this book. It makes me want to read what he's put his life's efforts into. It is a bit repetitive in some places, likely due to it being piecemeal interviews, articles, essays, etc., but it is worth a look. Select quotes:"The more we understand the realities of the political process, the better informed our votes will be. And then, presumably, in some very diffuse, very inchoate way, the better our country will be.""Really, my books are an examination of what power does to people." "...What power always does is reveal....""In my defense: while I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either....there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the close you come to whatever truth there is."
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  • Frank Stein
    January 1, 1970
    For Caro, this is a remarkably thin book. He said he wrote it to get down few thoughts on his researching and writing process before he died. The truth is, about half the book is made up of previously published magazine articles, many of which themselves trod over territory from his books, and much of the remainder was just published in a New Yorker article. I imagine the impetus for the book might have been financial.Still, Caro is a wonderful writer, and it's fascinating to get a glimpse of hi For Caro, this is a remarkably thin book. He said he wrote it to get down few thoughts on his researching and writing process before he died. The truth is, about half the book is made up of previously published magazine articles, many of which themselves trod over territory from his books, and much of the remainder was just published in a New Yorker article. I imagine the impetus for the book might have been financial.Still, Caro is a wonderful writer, and it's fascinating to get a glimpse of his work habits. He explains his inner compulsion, and it is a real compulsion, to research every possible question and angle before writing. He explains his habits of interviewing the same people numerous times, and constantly pushing them to tell him "what you saw" and "what you heard," so he can provide a real lived experience of historic moments to the reader. He explains how he would walk the same path as Lyndon Johnson would walk to work as a young congressional aide, but he could never understand why Johnson would break into a run starting at the Capitol. Then, he decided to do the walk at daybreak, the same time Johnson would have done it, and he saw that the entire East Side of the Capitol was covered with a marvelous light, reflecting off the marble and almost burning anyone who stood near it. Even though Caro eschews "psychohistory," he said he now began to understand what Johnson was feeling at those moments. He also explains to the reader great moments in serendipitous discoveries, such as when the sister and best friend of Lyndon Johnson's most beloved mistress, Alice Marsh, came to tell him that "We've read the Power Broker, so we know you're going to find out about Alice," even though he had no clue who she was. Yet Alice Marsh turned out to be crucial to understanding Johnson's changing political and personal habits, down to his more professional and elegant clothing, in the 1940s and '50s.For non-Caro fanatics, this book is probably too detailed and abstruse. For true-believers, among whom I include myself, it walks over too much old territory. Yet, for true-believers, almost anything he writes has enough nuggets of wisdom and truth to be worth the price of admission. This book is no exception.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    I was so excited for this book. So looking forward to reading more of Caro's beautiful, distinctive writing. He intends to write a Caro-length memoir - and candidly acknowledges that this short book exists in case he runs out of time. I could have read another thousand pages of his methods and anecdotes. I'm a working historian. I loved his stories of finding buried treasure, convincing a reluctant source to talk, the feeling you get when you figure out how to communicate something to your audie I was so excited for this book. So looking forward to reading more of Caro's beautiful, distinctive writing. He intends to write a Caro-length memoir - and candidly acknowledges that this short book exists in case he runs out of time. I could have read another thousand pages of his methods and anecdotes. I'm a working historian. I loved his stories of finding buried treasure, convincing a reluctant source to talk, the feeling you get when you figure out how to communicate something to your audience - to show and not to tell. Caro's books have brought me much joy over the past 20 some years. This was no exception. I hope he has many more ahead. One piece of advice on managing expectations: if you've read the New Yorker article, you've read a significant excerpt from the book. And at least one existing interview is included. Some of the new and old overlap. But the parts that were new were pure magic and expertly told.
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  • Stephen Power
    January 1, 1970
    The value here isn’t in just the words. It’s in Caro’s voice. That’s New York.
  • Jeff Swartz
    January 1, 1970
    I have grown up reading Robert Caro. This is both a great introduction to Caro and a great extra if you’ve read the Moses and Johnson bios.He does a great job of explaining how he works. Fascinating and fun.
  • Anthony Connolly
    January 1, 1970
    I felt rather cheesy reading this Caro book having not read any of the famed biographer's works on Robert Moses or LBJ. I've read "about" Robert A. Caro's prize-winning and highly lauded books on political power; and, I read about Caro's famous slow writing process -- he researches his subjects to death, turning every page of extant documents to find his material; he writes longhand, and then types his manuscripts on a Smith-Corona Electra 210 electric typewriter. The book is intended as a backg I felt rather cheesy reading this Caro book having not read any of the famed biographer's works on Robert Moses or LBJ. I've read "about" Robert A. Caro's prize-winning and highly lauded books on political power; and, I read about Caro's famous slow writing process -- he researches his subjects to death, turning every page of extant documents to find his material; he writes longhand, and then types his manuscripts on a Smith-Corona Electra 210 electric typewriter. The book is intended as a background, not a memoir, to his working days. Once read, readers will come away in awe of the lengths Robert, and most importantly his wife Ina, went to finish each of the books, in one instance moving from New York to the Texas Hill Country to get closer to Lyndon Baines Johnson's family, friends, and mien. What he unearths is legendary, amongst the gems that Johnson literally stole an early election, the famous Box 13; that LBJ was a vote-counter on the level of genius; and that the 34th president's childhood was not what the countless previous biographers had developed it to be. His take on Moses, an unelected commissioner, shows how political power can move major infrastructure for those with the means to influence, but not budge a smidgen for those without the oil to grease the wheel as it were. It's a repetitive book, which Caro admits himself, but highly laudable for its peek behind the curtain of researching and writing biographies. And in some respects this is a book of our time: "...while I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either: no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is."
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  • Alex MacMillan
    January 1, 1970
    Mr. Caro is notorious for being meticulous with his research, passionate about his writing, and indefatigable in his pursuit of the truth. Here, the world’s greatest living biographer takes a break from writing the final volume his of LBJ biographies to explain how the sausage gets made, revealing the persistence and sheer luck that it took for Robert and his wife to create timeless classics. He shares the choicest anecdotes from his decades of muckraking, detailing the months and years of inves Mr. Caro is notorious for being meticulous with his research, passionate about his writing, and indefatigable in his pursuit of the truth. Here, the world’s greatest living biographer takes a break from writing the final volume his of LBJ biographies to explain how the sausage gets made, revealing the persistence and sheer luck that it took for Robert and his wife to create timeless classics. He shares the choicest anecdotes from his decades of muckraking, detailing the months and years of investigation he required to complete book chapters that may only take twenty minutes to read, but will stay with you forever.This brief memoir will not only whet the appetite of newbies who have never read a massive Caro tome (out of intimidation or inertia), but will also enhance the appreciation of longtime readers about the palpable spirit etched onto every page of his books. Much like RBG’s recent memoir, most of this book consists of previously published writings, compiled by an octogenarian who is still too busy to sit down for a thorough autobiography, but who still wants to distill his thoughts and inspire the present generation to pick up the baton after he is no longer with us.
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  • Ivan
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I heard he was (ahem) working on it. I was a little disappointed that some of this material has been previously published—and as recently-converted Caro fan I’ve read it all—but I’m glad it’s all compiled here in one book. This isn’t the memoir that Caro would someday like to write, but at 83, with his fifth and final LBJ volume still years from completion, he wanted to share a few things from his work on his Robert Moses and LBJ biographies—really I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I heard he was (ahem) working on it. I was a little disappointed that some of this material has been previously published—and as recently-converted Caro fan I’ve read it all—but I’m glad it’s all compiled here in one book. This isn’t the memoir that Caro would someday like to write, but at 83, with his fifth and final LBJ volume still years from completion, he wanted to share a few things from his work on his Robert Moses and LBJ biographies—really, studies on power and how they shape us. I’m glad he did. What makes Caro such a unique biographer is that he is never satisfied with mere surface-level understanding of people and times, hence why he takes so many years to write books. And we’re all the beneficiaries of it.
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  • Bob Kuster
    January 1, 1970
    If you are anxiously waiting for the fifth volume of the The Years of Lyndon Johnson series, you will want to read Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. Robert Caro is a national treasure. This book answers the question why is there no fifth volume yet. This book also helps explain why I cannot read any biography or non fiction book without thinking "it was a good read but I needed more. I needed the book to be caro'ed", meaning I did not feel as if I was in the room experiencing the even If you are anxiously waiting for the fifth volume of the The Years of Lyndon Johnson series, you will want to read Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. Robert Caro is a national treasure. This book answers the question why is there no fifth volume yet. This book also helps explain why I cannot read any biography or non fiction book without thinking "it was a good read but I needed more. I needed the book to be caro'ed", meaning I did not feel as if I was in the room experiencing the event or life. When I finished Working, I thought well done, Mr. Caro, well done.
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  • Dan Downing
    January 1, 1970
    Winning a Pulitzer prize is a big deal for writers. Winning two is outstanding. Scarfing up two for the first four books you write, of a total of five, is huge. In Robert A. Caro's case, he has written his sixth book, a much different deal than his first five."Working" is brief, personal, insightful and quite well written, a Caro hallmark. In it, he describes his larger goal, beyond simple biography. For his legion of fans, he has met his goal and more: those who read about Robert Moses learned Winning a Pulitzer prize is a big deal for writers. Winning two is outstanding. Scarfing up two for the first four books you write, of a total of five, is huge. In Robert A. Caro's case, he has written his sixth book, a much different deal than his first five."Working" is brief, personal, insightful and quite well written, a Caro hallmark. In it, he describes his larger goal, beyond simple biography. For his legion of fans, he has met his goal and more: those who read about Robert Moses learned about over 40 years in the history of New York, city and state. Those who read any of the Lyndon Johnson books learned about America through 60 years, and especially the mind-boggling changes Johnson effected during the 60s. He changed the country and the world.Caro's interest, beyond the fascinating personalities he writes about, has been the acquisition and use of power. For those who lack the interest, attention span or time to bask in the incendiary light of the Moses or Johnson books, "Working" could serve as a crib sheet. At 207 pages it won't kill a time budget and if one hasn't read the books it won't make a difference. Caro sets the hook and pulls you along. Be careful, however. You could wind up buried in "The Power Broker" or consumed by the four Johnson volumes, eagerly awaiting number five like the rest of us.Highly Recommended
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  • Brian Willis
    January 1, 1970
    If you have read any of Caro's five massive and massively important biographies (one on Robert Moses, and four and counting on LBJ), this brief 2007 collection of essays and an interview by Caro on his working methods are essential. And if you simply want great insight in how to write non-fiction in gripping, inclusive, evocative prose, this book is also for you.Caro has always been focused incisively on power: not democratic power, but the power wielded by people placed in offices of power that If you have read any of Caro's five massive and massively important biographies (one on Robert Moses, and four and counting on LBJ), this brief 2007 collection of essays and an interview by Caro on his working methods are essential. And if you simply want great insight in how to write non-fiction in gripping, inclusive, evocative prose, this book is also for you.Caro has always been focused incisively on power: not democratic power, but the power wielded by people placed in offices of power that take on lives of their own. The LBJ story, when finished, will be the great American story of power, its glories and its excesses.Each of the selections in this book are beautifully written as well as insightful. A great read in either one sitting or piecemeal, but invaluable.
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  • Jordan Schneider
    January 1, 1970
    A brief window into a life well lived. His readers’ reactions to the women of hill county chapter are as good a rebuttal as anyone needs to those who don’t understand how important economic development is.“Just remember, turn every page.”Pleasure to listen to how lovingly he speaks of his wife.“Silence is the weapon.” He writes “su” for shut up in his notebooks.Get a sense of place by asking people “what did you see” and “what did you hear”Carbon copies in 79th street boat basin of all of Moses’ A brief window into a life well lived. His readers’ reactions to the women of hill county chapter are as good a rebuttal as anyone needs to those who don’t understand how important economic development is.“Just remember, turn every page.”Pleasure to listen to how lovingly he speaks of his wife.“Silence is the weapon.” He writes “su” for shut up in his notebooks.Get a sense of place by asking people “what did you see” and “what did you hear”Carbon copies in 79th street boat basin of all of Moses’ documents!Adorable moment when he meets great writers at NYPL who had spent more years working on his book than theirs.Such a pleasure listening to Caro’s beautiful New York accent on the audiobook.
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    Loved his authorial "voice" so much, I ran out and bought a copy of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Now, I'm just working up my courage to dive into that massive tome.
  • Cheryl Turoczy hart
    January 1, 1970
    Robert Caro was making the interview circuit a week or two ago just prior to the release of this, his latest book. It really provides some insight into his researching/writing process. I only wish he had written it sooner and I had read it before I did my dissertation although I couldn't have spent 7 years writing that.
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  • V
    January 1, 1970
    Audio book read by Caro is really excellent. His voice makes a lot of the stories become more real.
  • John Machata
    January 1, 1970
    Robert A. Caro sharing his methods, mind and heart. Loved it so much I stopped in the middle to write him a letter long hand!
  • William
    January 1, 1970
    Great book about storytelling, interviewing and the art of making the reader understand. "The thing is, there's always more to the story..." he says, and he's so right.
  • John
    January 1, 1970
    Great insights from our greatest biographerRobert Caro gives us some insight into how he researches and writes as well as some more insights into his two great subjects: Moses and LBJ. Although some of this book has appeared in other places, I still thought the compilation and original work was well worth the read.
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  • Tobias
    January 1, 1970
    Master at workI've - regrettably - never read Caro's work but that will change now. I don't think I've ever read so helpful an account of how research is done and how it is crafted into prose. Really should be read by anyone in the business of finding and organizing facts.
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  • Steve Smits
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating! To see how the master of biography works. In 1974, I was in class as graduate school where the professor was ecstatic about "The Power Broker". I don't remember the professor and certainly nothing of the course, but I well remember one of the most amazing works of biography ever -- followed by the equally great Lyndon Johnson volumes. Caro is 83 and I'm 70. My fondest hope is that he'll be alive to finish volume 5 and I'll be alive to read it!!
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  • Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir
    January 1, 1970
    When I first learned that Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of majestic biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, was releasing a book on recollections about his experiences writing those life histories, I was quite perturbed. The fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson is still being written, and seven years have passed since the publication of the fourth installment. Wouldn’t his time be better spent completing that series instead of writing a different book?I When I first learned that Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of majestic biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, was releasing a book on recollections about his experiences writing those life histories, I was quite perturbed. The fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson is still being written, and seven years have passed since the publication of the fourth installment. Wouldn’t his time be better spent completing that series instead of writing a different book?I was wrong. WORKING is a brief and refreshing interlude from the painstakingly detailed life portraits that have become Caro’s trademark. While featuring some previously published material, it offers readers a contextual view of what his writing seeks to accomplish and why he writes with the vivid and glorious detail that makes his books essential to an understanding of the life and times of his subjects.Recently interviewed by the New York Times, Caro addresses the question of why he chose Moses and Johnson to be the centerpieces for biographies that would become his life’s work. His answer is simple but powerful: “I never had the slightest interest in writing the life of a great man. From the very start I thought of writing biographies as a means of illuminating the times of the men I was writing about and the great forces that molded those times --- particularly the force that is political power.”Although only 200 pages, WORKING offers significant insights into how a biographer treats his subjects and his craft. Moses designed and built hundreds of miles of highway in and around New York City. In addition to the financial cost, each of these roads had a “human cost,” impacting the lives of all who lived in the path or near the highways. Caro knew that those individuals needed to have a voice. This took substantial time to research and write, but in his heart, a full biography of Moses required that work.In a similar manner, Caro researched life in the Hill Country of Texas in the 1930s and ’40s before young Congressman Lyndon Johnson helped bring electricity to that isolated, impoverished area. Electricity brought lights and pumps to south Texas, allowing water to flow into homes. It took many interviews from people in the communities to portray the physical toil of female homemakers to bring water to their houses. One woman remarked to Caro, “You’re a city boy. You don’t know how heavy a bucket of water is.” She handed a bucket and rope to Caro, who calculated that she probably hauled 200 gallons of water each day in that bucket, using the rope to fill and lift the water from a well.In each of these instances, as well as countless others, Caro’s discussion of powerful men seeks to give some voice to those who occupy the opposite end of the power spectrum --- the powerless and the invisible. The careers of Moses and Johnson would improve the lives of many, but some would not be as fortunate. However, all were intimately bound together with the men who wielded the power.WORKING illustrates two important philosophies that explain why Caro’s biographies occupy such a lofty position in the literary world. The first was taught to him early in his writing career --- “turn every page” --- which explains his exhaustive detail and dogged research. His years at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, have probably qualified him to be an honorary Texan. The second philosophy learned from years of experience is that there is no truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple. There are only facts, and the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. Truth takes time.Caro is 83 years old and recognizes that his ability to complete his life’s work may be coming to an end. But he presses on in a seemingly never-ending effort, somewhat comfortable in the knowledge that his writing will endure.Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
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  • Lynn
    January 1, 1970
    I first became aware of Robert Caro and his monumental multi-volume work on Lyndon Baines Johnson just a few years ago. I wasn't willing to tackle anything quite so monumental then but started The Passage of Power (volume 1) out of curiosity, but soon abandoned it, even though it was fascinating. Meanwhile, I've kept track of Robert Caro's work because, from what I'd learned of him, I'd come to respect him as a writer, researcher, and historian of a rare type -- one whose objective is to get to I first became aware of Robert Caro and his monumental multi-volume work on Lyndon Baines Johnson just a few years ago. I wasn't willing to tackle anything quite so monumental then but started The Passage of Power (volume 1) out of curiosity, but soon abandoned it, even though it was fascinating. Meanwhile, I've kept track of Robert Caro's work because, from what I'd learned of him, I'd come to respect him as a writer, researcher, and historian of a rare type -- one whose objective is to get to the very bottom of things.Caro, who is age 83 at this writing, is working on the fifth volume of his LBJ series and says he still has a great deal to do on it. (Years of work.) He's aware that the clock is ticking. And he would also like to write a longer-scale memoir.Meanwhile, he has interrupted that work to put together Working, a mini-memoir. In 207 pages, Caro describes his lifework and his methods of getting the full story on what he is writing about by means of existing books, newspaper and magazine stories, the subject's papers, and hundreds of interviews, many of them repeated, with people who knew and worked with the subject personally and with those whose lives were affected by them (sometimes negatively).Caro writes several drafts in longhand using white legal pads before switching to his Smit-Corona typewriter. He does not use a computer. His reasoning is that he wants his tools and methods to prevent him from going too fast. This is inconceivable to me, but I respect any serious author's method of working.Importantly, Caro says it was never his objective to write biographies of great men. (His subject before LBJ was New York infrastructure developer Robert Moses.) He has always been much more interested in the meta-story: What constitutes true political power, and how those who have it obtain it and use it.To a person like me, obsessed with the inner workings of things, this is all extremely interesting, in some respects even more than the actual subject matter Caro has chosen to write about. It's related to why, as a musician, I became a composer because of my interest in following scores; and to becoming a software engineer because my interest in computers was in more than just learning to use them; and to becoming an editor because I'm interested in the power of language and words and how it all works together. In all my major interests in life, I've wanted to get to the bottom of things to answer the question: How do they do that? And how can I do it, too?I don't know if I will ever read any more of Caro's Johnson series, though I'd like to read the first volume, Passage to Power. I find regarding biographies in general that the stories of early life and what experiences drive the character of the one I'm reading about are extremely interesting. In contrast, when these people become famous (if they do), what they do in their public lives is well documented and is often something I know about at the beginning. (Not so much true of personal memoirs of relatively anonymous people.)Also, I lived through the sixties, an era that was dominated by Lyndon Baines Johnson. I sometimes describe myself as a "victim of the sixties." So if and when Caro finishes his last volume, which includes Johnson and Vietnam (possibly destined to become the definitive work on that subject), I might be interested in that, too. And if I read both of those, having already read Passage to Power, I might as well also read the book about Johnson's Senate years, which is when the man was operating at the peak of his ability.Or maybe not. That's several thousand pages of reading.
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  • Matt Hooper
    January 1, 1970
    With few objections, Robert Caro is widely considered the greatest biographer living today. He's the George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling of non-fiction. Among his legions of fans: Barack Obama (who presented Caro with a National Humanities Medal in 2010), and Conan O'Brien (who has literally begged Caro to come on his late-night talk show for upwards of 20 years). His cinderblock-sized tomes on Robert Moses and Lyndon Baines Johnson are revered by writers and readers alike. Why read more than 4,0 With few objections, Robert Caro is widely considered the greatest biographer living today. He's the George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling of non-fiction. Among his legions of fans: Barack Obama (who presented Caro with a National Humanities Medal in 2010), and Conan O'Brien (who has literally begged Caro to come on his late-night talk show for upwards of 20 years). His cinderblock-sized tomes on Robert Moses and Lyndon Baines Johnson are revered by writers and readers alike. Why read more than 4,000 pages of tightly-spaced copy on our thirty-sixth president? Why read nearly 1,400 pages on Bob Moses (who the hell is Bob Moses anyway, asks every non-New Yorker)? The answer is – for the same reason that you watch Daniel Day-Lewis act or Yo-Yo Ma perform music, or Steph Curry shoot a 37-foot jumper. Because Robert Caro is the preeminent performer in his field today. And because there will never be another like him, ever. Here's the thing: Caro's in his mid-80s, still writing long-hand drafts, still typing on a typewriter, still sifting through records at the Johnson Library in Austin. The fifth and final volume of his nearly 40-year biographical LBJ odyssey is still not complete and fans are – what's a polite way of saying it, concerned that Caro is running out of time. Caro is well-aware of this concern – "Working" is more or less a rebuttal, an explanation of just why it takes him so long to crank out a book. At 207 words, this is practically a paragraph compared to Caro's other works. But it carries a significant payload of wisdom and advice. Such as...Speed kills. When he was a newspaperman, Caro was known for turning out copy faster than anyone else in the newsroom. But two pieces of advice shifted his outlook. One, "stop thinking with your fingers" – anyone can churn copy, but quantity does not equal quality. Two, "turn every page." The reason that Caro's tomes are the best political biographies ever written is because he, quite literally, turned every page of information at his disposal. Records kept by the principals. Records kept by others who interacted with the principals. Records kept by others twice removed from the principals. The result? There are no unanswered questions in a Caro biography.Total devotion is required. When Bob Caro felt he couldn't get a true sense of the Texas Hill Country – the famed region that bore and reared Lyndon Johnson – he moved his family there from New York City. When the publisher's advance had long run out ahead of his book on Moses – Caro's wife Ina sold their house to free up capital. When Caro types out a legal-sized page of work in the morning – on an electric typewriter, triple-spaced – and then spends the rest of his day crossing out virtually all his sentences and writing new ones in the margins, time is sacrificed in pursuit of perfection. Shut up. The greatest leverage an interviewer has during an interview is silence. Silence is a vacuum begging to be filled; so loathed and uncomfortable that we'll usually step over ourselves in an attempt to end it. When conducting any of his hundreds of interviews over the past 50-or-so years, Caro often scribbles the acronym "SU" (SHUT UP!) multiple times in his notebook – a reminder to let the interviewee fill the silence, not the interviewer. These are but three of the nuggets of wisdom Caro shares in "Working" – all of them invaluable to writers and readers alike. The underlying theme – leave me alone. I'm working as fast as I can, which is to say – I'm not working fast at all. Let me explain. Trust me.
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  • Mugizi Rwebangira
    January 1, 1970
    This is essentially a pseudo-autobiography.He explains -How he started out as daily journalist and segued into the book writing business-How broke he was while writing "The Power Broker"-Why it takes him so long to write his books.-How he does his research, book outlines and chapter outlines.-How he conducts interviews.-The importance of stylish writing, not just getting the facts right-The importance of making the reader SEE and HEAR what the characters felt-The importance of TURNING EVERY PAGE This is essentially a pseudo-autobiography.He explains -How he started out as daily journalist and segued into the book writing business-How broke he was while writing "The Power Broker"-Why it takes him so long to write his books.-How he does his research, book outlines and chapter outlines.-How he conducts interviews.-The importance of stylish writing, not just getting the facts right-The importance of making the reader SEE and HEAR what the characters felt-The importance of TURNING EVERY PAGE when looking at documents (or as many as possible), because interesting stuff often comes out-The importance of asking the same question repeatedly to interviewees until they reveal significant information (even if the people being interviewed get irritated)-The importance of allowing uncomfortable silences as an interviewing techniqueIt is very well written and there are lots of interesting tidbits, especially for people who've read his other books.It makes you appreciate how much work he puts in and how painstaking (but also rewarding) the process is.But it also makes me a bit nervous.As he points out himself, the LBJ book still has to deal with-The 1964 presidential election-The Voting Rights Act-Medicare-Vietnam-The 1968 presidential election-LBJ's retirement and DeathGiven Caro's penchant for getting into all the details, each of these topics could easily be a book. Given the fact that Caro has taken an average of TEN years to finish the first four volumes, this could be another SIXTY years from the last book before he finishes! (Or 60 + 2012=2017).Given the fact the he is already 83 years old this doesn't look too good!I think the BEST case scenario is that he splits the remaining books into TWO volumes:-Volume Five: The Great Society (Medicare, Voting Rights Act, 1964 election)Volume Six: America Burning (Vietnam, 1968 Election, Retirement and Death) But I have faith in Caro and hope he can pull it off!But even if he doesn't finish the series what he has done is significant and remarkable, especially with "Master of the Senate", by far the most interesting book about a legislative body or about politics in general that I've ever read.
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  • Aurelie
    January 1, 1970
    I really wanted to like this book. I really, really wanted to like this book. I have read or listened to the audiobooks of all 4 volumes of his LBJ biography (while impatiently waiting for the 5th and last installment), and I have The Power Broker about Robert Moses on my shelves. Caro has a very distinctive writing voice, only enhanced by the narration of Grover Gardner. He has been able to unearth key details about his subjects - for instance, before he came along, biographies of LBJ all portr I really wanted to like this book. I really, really wanted to like this book. I have read or listened to the audiobooks of all 4 volumes of his LBJ biography (while impatiently waiting for the 5th and last installment), and I have The Power Broker about Robert Moses on my shelves. Caro has a very distinctive writing voice, only enhanced by the narration of Grover Gardner. He has been able to unearth key details about his subjects - for instance, before he came along, biographies of LBJ all portrayed the young Lyndon as well-liked among his peers, and it took Caro's digging to realize this was only a legend fostered by LBJ and his allies. When The New Yorker published excerpts of his essays on writing, I was thrilled to realize Caro's writing voice shone through there as well and I pre-ordered Working with great hopes of learning more about Caro's working process. I did learn that he put an unusual emphasis in imagining each scene from his character's viewpoint, asking key witnesses again and again what they saw and heard until they got angry with him, but overall the best parts of Working were all published in The New Yorker, and there wasn't much new material that I felt warranted the publication of this book. Caro does say that he is also at work on an autobiography, and that will certainly make for a great book. I don't think that it was essential to publish Working, but at least Caro will get the royalties instead of having the money accumulate posthumously when some other editor would have put together some of his writing. Get The New Yorker issue that published the book excerpts, even at the $8.99 cover price, you won't miss much from the parts of the book that aren't in it. But I'm still very much looking forward to the 5th volume of the LBJ biography and Caro's own autobiography. This review was first posted on my blog https://engineered.typepad.com/writin...
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  • Matt Schiavenza
    January 1, 1970
    Robert Caro's new book isn't the much-anticipated fifth volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography — that, he says, is still "several years away." Instead, Caro has published a short reflection on how he goes about putting together such magisterial works in the first place."Working" isn't a traditional memoir; that, Caro says, will come later. But this book nonetheless contains a lot of nuggets from his remarkable career. We learn how a crusty Newsday editor told him to "turn every goddamn page," a Robert Caro's new book isn't the much-anticipated fifth volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography — that, he says, is still "several years away." Instead, Caro has published a short reflection on how he goes about putting together such magisterial works in the first place."Working" isn't a traditional memoir; that, Caro says, will come later. But this book nonetheless contains a lot of nuggets from his remarkable career. We learn how a crusty Newsday editor told him to "turn every goddamn page," a lesson that Caro took to heart, and how a willingness to peruse documents ad nauseum led to many of his most important discoveries about Robert Moses, the subject of his first Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. Later, as Caro began his research into the life of Lyndon Johnson, the biographer moved to Texas' isolated Hill Country in order better understand the physical environment of the 36th president's upbringing. It's easy to be cynical and say that with unlimited time, resources, and an expert research assistant (Caro's wife, Ina, is the unsung hero of all of his books), anyone could put together an in-depth biography. But Caro's genius is in understanding that things don't just happen in American life. Instead, powerful individuals, like Moses or LBJ, can will great things into existence. And, were it not for an indefatigable biographer, many of their operations would have forever avoided scrutiny.Should Caro die before he publishes his final LBJ book (at 83, his age does make his devoted fans skittish), many might find this little reflection to be an odd, unwanted deviation from his primary work. But Writing may someday be as valuable, particularly to those aspiring to a life in letters, as the fruits of his labor.
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