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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro

A few years ago I finally tackled The Power Broker, and boy am I glad I did. Robert Moses was a terrifying, powerful, single-minded man who puts one to mind of an evil character from an old cartoon. He's in fact, hard to believe, unless you have the massively thorough research of Robert Caro behind you. I have long wanted to read his Lyndon Johnson books but A) they're awe-inspiringly long and B) he's not done yet with the series. But now, I have to resign myself to the fact that there's no way I can read them until after I retire. Well. They'll still be around then.

In the meantime, Caro gave us this wonderful little amuse-bouche of a memoir of his writing. I call it am amuse-bouche not because it's a tiny book--it's only tiny in comparison to his other books. It's a taste, a hint, an appetite-whetter. And I succumbed--I have added all of the Johnson books to by To Read list even though it will be decades before I can get to them. But that feels appropriate as a theme throughout Working is people asking Caro when his book is going to be finished. And a half-apology even for writing this book at all, as it necessarily must delay the fifth Lyndon Johnson book, even if just by a little, and readers are champing at the bit for it.

This book goes into detail about exactly how he does his research, how he interviews, and how he writes (and rewrites and revises), explaining a heck of a lot of why it seems to take a decade for each book he writes. You just don't get Pulitzer-quality work by rushing. His wife Ina also does the research right alongside him, and he gives her a lot of credit--at first for keeping their heads above water when he was several years overdue on The Power Broker and they were broke, she sold their house to fund another year of writing. And later simply for her diligent, exhaustive research by his side. In fact, when they moved to the Hill Country of Texas (that's how thoroughly he researches his subjects--he moved to where Lyndon Johnson grew up to understand what it was like), it was Ina who learned how to make jam in order to really gain full entree into the homes of their neighbors, and gain their confidence, so they'd speak more openly.

This is a perfect little book to tide you over if you're anxiously awaiting the next Johnson title, or one to try if you've always been curious about the Caro books but aren't sure about the commitment. And I highly recommend the audio, read by the author.

I borrowed this eaudiobook book from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

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