Caro on the Powerful – and the Powerless

Robert Caro is arguably America’s preeminent biographer. His masterpieces of political biography include one tome on Master Builder Robert Moses and, so far, four (with a final one yet to come) on President Lyndon Johnson. For his accomplishments Caro has won every significant literary prize his country has to offer.

Instead of striving in his early eighties to complete volume five on Johnson, Caro took a detour. He’s just published Working, which describes in depth his experiences as a researcher and writer.   

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour about his most recent book, Caro said that after writing about power for more than a half century, he had learned this.  

I learned that it’s not enough to write about the … men who wield [power], you have to write also about the powerless. What is the effect on people without power who are affected by government? Either their lives are changed for the better or for the worse. Either Robert Moses or Lyndon Jonson brought them something, or they stood in their way, ruined them. And I [came to] feel that you have to show, as I said, not just the powerful but the powerless – otherwise books about power are somewhat incomplete.  

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