|Robert Allan Caro|
|Born||June 30, 1935
New York, New York
|Notable work(s)||The Power Broker|
Robert Allan Caro (born October 30, 1935) is a biographer best known for his studies of United States political figures Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson. After working many years as a reporter, Caro wrote The Power Broker (1974), a biography of New York urban planner Robert Moses. Then he began the biographical series of the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, known as The Years of Lyndon Johnson (1982, 1990, 2002). For his biographies of Moses and Johnson, Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography (1975, 2003); he has twice won the National Book Critic Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year (1982, 1990); he was awarded a Gold Medal in Biography and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute (2003, 1986); and he won the Francis Parkman Prize in 1975.
In October 2007, Caro was named a "Holtzbrinck Distinguished Visitor" at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany but was unable to attend.
In 1953, Caro graduated from the Horace Mann School, where he is known for translating an edition of his school newspaper into Russian and mailing 10,000 copies to schoolboys in the USSR. In 1957 he received a degree in English from Princeton University, where he was managing editor of The Daily Princetonian. He was a Carnegie Fellow at Columbia University. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He began his professional career as a reporter with the New Brunswick Daily Home News (now merged into the Home News Tribune) in New Jersey. He also spent six years as an investigative reporter with the Long Island, New York newspaper Newsday.
After spending the academic year of 1966-67 as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, Caro began work on his first book, The Power Broker, which is both a biography of New Yor urban planner Robert Moses and a study of Caro's favorite theme, the acquisition and use of power. Not finished until 1974, the work was based on extensive research and 522 interviews, including seven interviews with Moses himself, several with Michael Madigan (who worked for Moses for thirty-five years); and numerous interviews with Sidney Shapiro (Moses's General Manager for forty years); as well as interviews with men who worked for and knew Moses’s mentor, New York Governor Al Smith. His wife, Ina Caro, functioned as his research assistant. In fact, her master's thesis on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge stemmed from this work. The Power Broker was a critical success, winning the Pulitzer Prize in Biography and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist," and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century.
The Power Broker is widely viewed as a seminal work because it combined painstaking historical research with a smoothly flowing narrative writing style. The success of this approach was evident in his chapter on the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, where Caro reported the controversy from all perspectives, including that of neighborhood residents. The result was a work of powerful literary as well as academic interest.
Following this success, Caro turned his attention to Lyndon B. Johnson. Caro retraced Johnson's life by temporarily moving to rural Texas and Washington, D.C., in order to better understand Johnson's upbringing and to interview anyone who had known Johnson. The work, entitled The Years of Lyndon Johnson, is projected to run to four volumes. The first, The Path to Power (1982) covers Johnson's life up to his failed 1941 campaign for the United States Senate. It won a National Book Critics Circle Award, 1983, a Washington Monthly Best Political Book Award, 1983, and an H.L. Mencken Award. The second volume, Means of Ascent (1990), commences in the aftermath of that defeat and continues through his election to that office in 1948. This volume won a National Book Critics Circle Award, 1990, and Washington Monthly Best Political Book Award, 1990. The third and most recent published volume, Master of the Senate (2002) chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent and rule as Senate Majority Leader; it garnered Caro a second Pulitzer Prize in Biography as well as a National Book Award, a Carl Sandburg Award, a John Steinbeck Award and a Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Times of London wrote "Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age." Caro is currently at work on the last volume, tentatively titled The Presidency.
Caro's books portray Johnson as alternating between scheming opportunist and visionary progressive. Caro argued, for example, that Johnson's victory in the 1948 runoff for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate was achieved through extensive fraud and ballot box stuffing. Caro also highlighted some of Johnson's campaign contributions, such as those from the Texas construction firm Brown and Root; in 1962 the company was acquired by another Texas firm, Halliburton, which became a major contractor in the Vietnam War. In addition, Caro argued that Johnson was awarded the Silver Star in World War II mainly for political reasons, and that he later lied to journalists and the public about the circumstances for which it was awarded. Despite these criticisms, Caro's portrayal of Johnson also notes his struggles on behalf of progressive causes such as the Voting Rights Act.
In a 2009 interview with Charlie Rose, Caro said that the final volume of his biography of Johnson will be published "not for another three years."
Caro has described his wife, Ina Caro, as "the whole team" on all four of his books. She sold the Caros' house to fund work on The Power Broker, and is the only person other than himself who conducted research for her husband's books. She is the author of her own book, The Road from the Past: Travelling through History in France. When it was published in 1994, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., called it "the essential travelling companion ... for all who love France and its history." Commented Newsweek reviewer Peter Prescott: "I'd rather go to France with Ina Caro than with Henry Adams or Henry James. The unique premise of her intelligent and discerning book is so startling that it’s a wonder no one has thought of it before."
Newsweek, The Nation; Arts, February 7, 2009 on line publication date, Feb. 16, 2009