The Profile Dossier: Robert Caro, the Biographer of the World’s Most Powerful People
“Power doesn't always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals.”
Robert A. Caro is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author best known for his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is among the most influential nonfiction writers of the last century.
As a young reporter, Caro became intrigued by the idea of power — who holds it, where they get it, and how they use it — so his first biography focused on Robert Moses, the man who essentially built New York City.
“Really, my books are an examination of what power does to people. Power doesn’t always corrupt, and you can see it in the case of, for example, Al Smith or Sam Rayburn. There, power cleanses.”
“But what power always does is reveal, because when you’re climbing, you have to conceal from people what it is you’re really willing to do, what it is you want to do. But once you get enough power, once you’re there, where you wanted to be, then you can see what the protagonist wanted to do all along, because now he’s doing it.”
Caro says that regard for power means disregard of those without power: “You have to write not only about the man who wields the sword, but also about the people on whom it is wielded.”
Caro has spent the last five decades publishing the first four books of the series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, chronicling the life of the thirty-sixth president of the United States. Now 87, Caro is working on the final volume that will cover “the 1964 election, the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the launch of the Great Society, the deepening of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the unrest in the cities and on college campuses, Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection, and his retirement and death.”
Here’s what we can learn from the man who dedicated his life to chronicling the lives of some of the most powerful people in history.
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