Robert A. Caro on biography writing

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

3 words: first-person, inside glimpse, psychological

Just hearing the name “Robert Caro” makes me happy. I know because it happened just the other evening at the other end of the dinner table at a family gathering. I wasn’t even part of the conversation, but hearing his name gave me a little spark of joy.

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve read two volumes of Caro’s multi-volume biography of LBJ, and I look forward to reading the others. His research and his writing make my heart sing.

So when Caro’s book Working was released this month, I dove at it.

In this delightful and fascinating book, Caro takes us behind the curtain and reveals his methods. And he’s wonderfully self-effacing about the way he’s compelled to research a topic for years.

Here he is, in the introduction:

“…in this book I’m trying to show how the material was gathered: the method, if you will. In doing this, I have also provided, I’m afraid, a few glimpses into me.” (p. xxii)

Caro describes the drive he feels to capture the essence of a topic, which sometimes requires extreme measures such as moving to the Texas Hill Country for three years in order to understand the people of the region that produced LBJ.

And I mean, talk about immersive… he slept outdoors in the Hill Country so he could describe the way it sounded. And in Washington, DC, he woke at dawn to walk young LBJ’s path to Capitol Hill so he could describe the exact way it appeared at the hour he would approach.

This part of the book made me shiver with complete delight, because he’s describing the way he researched and wrote one of my favorite passages of nonfiction ever written. (I write about it here.)

Caro also details the way he conducts interviews, and the way he asks again and again for people to describe how things looked and what they heard.

“Interviewing: if you talk to people long enough, if you talk to them enough times, you find out things from them that maybe they didn’t even realize they knew.” (p. 176)

He provides examples of the details he would coax out of people, and it makes me realize this is a large part of what makes his books such an enormous immersive pleasure to read.

And then there’s his writing style. Caro touches on this a little, when he writes about the way he would tell a story and the way he would structure a paragraph for maximum effect.

So here’s the thing. I want him to live forever and write forever. Amen.


Give this book a whirl if you like… “inside baseball,” the story behind the story, how extraordinary nonfiction is written, self-deprecating humor, biographical research, how books are researched and written, a psychological portrait of a biographer

Anyone else a Robert A. Caro fan? If so, please you must talk to me!

by

Reader, librarian, & happy little geek

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