Working

Working

“Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: ‘Let’s not forget this.’ ” — Dave Eggers

But time moves on for Robert A. Caro.

Since 1976, the investigative reporter and prize-winning historian has devoted himself to his mammoth biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Now 83, he concedes that he is years away from completing the final volume, projected to take Johnson from his 1964 campaign to his death in 1973.

So why has Caro diverted his energy from LBJ to “Working,” a slender volume that anticipates the full memoir he hopes to produce?

His explanation: “I am quite aware that I may never get to write the memoir, although I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided, just in case, I’d put some of them down on paper now.”

“Working” includes previously published essays and reflections as well as fresh ones. Among Caro’s topics are:

  • his interview with Lady Bird Johnson in which she reflects with generosity on her husband’s longest-lasting mistress;
  • his memory of hearing an elderly election worker confess how he stole the 1948 election that sent LBJ to the U.S. Senate from Texas;
  • his adroit analysis that Johnson’s presidency can be viewed through the prisms of two songs: “We Shall Overcome” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”;
  • his early days as an investigative reporter for Newsday and his first book, a highly critical look at the late Robert Moses, the longtime urban planner for New York City; and
  • his love and gratitude for Ina — his wife, research assistant and source of strength during times of hardship.

Through it all, Caro displays his passion for history and his commitment to vivid prose, revelatory detail and stylistic excellence. And he explains the vision that guides his work: He aims “to show the effect of political power on everyone’s lives.”

Intimate and illuminating, “Working” showcases Caro’s mastery of his craft and his philosophy that readers should appreciate history intellectually and viscerally.

So let us now raise our voices to praise this slim but worthy book — and to pray that Caro will complete his LBJ work and write that entire memoir.

Jay Strafford, a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch editor and writer, now lives in Florida.

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