Robert Caro's books on LBJ are worth reading

What kind of books do you like to read?

My wife, Marilyn, and I, love reading books, but we have different tastes. She reads a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction, while I prefer biographies and books about historical events.

I am fortunate that Marilyn works at Loutit District Library and brings home books that she believes I will like. She has a pretty good track record. She checks the authors’ backgrounds, and if they are journalists and have won a Pulitzer Prize, Marilyn then has a pretty good idea I will like those books.

I can’t remember the last time I read a novel, but I would guess it was in college when I had an English literature class.

One of my college professors was adamant that we read “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. One day in class, he asked us to raise our hands if we had read the book. No one raised their hand. The professor then slammed his fist on the lecture podium and said in a very loud voice: “That is a (blank) shame.”

Well, with an 18-hour class load in my final semester, I wasn’t about to take on a book more than 800 pages long. I still haven’t read it.

But I am sure that professor would have approved that I’ve read the first four volumes of Robert Caro’s books on former President Lyndon B. Johnson, even though they are nonfiction. I am eagerly awaiting the fifth and final volume on Johnson.

I just got done reading another Caro book, titled “Working,” a fascinating read on how he went about writing the books on LBJ; as well as his first book called “The Power Broker,” a detailed study of Robert Moses, who at one time was considered the most powerful man in New York City.

I especially was fascinated with Caro’s books on LBJ, because Marilyn and I lived in Johnson City, Texas, for two years. LBJ was born in Johnson City and grew up there, as well as on a family ranch in Stonewall, Texas, not too far from Johnson City.

Marilyn taught English at LBJ High School and I managed the local weekly newspaper. Caro, of course, spent some time in Johnson City, researching material for his book, and interviewing residents who knew him, but we never crossed paths. I’m sure he believed that I didn’t have much to offer to his research. But I did meet some of the residents who Caro interviewed, including LBJ’s “favorite cousin,” Ava. She would occasionally drop by the newspaper office to chat and I was told some interesting stories about her cousin.

Marilyn and I also got to meet LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson. I was fortunate to become friends with a National Parks Service supervisor, Bob Hoff, whose responsibilities included managing tours of the LBJ ranch. Bob got Marilyn and I invited to a dinner hosted by Lady Bird at the ranch, and Bob introduced her to us. I even asked her if she would be willing to write a column for my newspaper. She graciously declined, telling me that she would be busy with her planned trip to China.

Anyone who read Caro’s books knows that he is a thorough author whose books go into great lengths about his subjects. He also isn’t afraid to be critical of his subjects. He acknowledged that Lady Bird was not happy with his first book about her husband.

In “Working,” Caro told how he asked to see documents on LBJ’s life stored at the Lyndon Baines Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. The archivist informed Caro that there were 40,000 boxes of papers. Of course, he didn’t go through all of them, but he did browse through quite a few. Caro moved to the Hill Country in Texas so that he could get a better feel for the life that LBJ led.

He is so careful with his work that he’ll spend years researching and writing.

I found Caro’s approach to writing a book interesting. He’ll write up to four drafts in long hand. Then he writes the same information on a typewriter. He doesn’t use a computer.

Those of you who inspire to someday write a bibliography might want to read “Working.” Caro explains in detail how he goes about gathering material for his books.

Robert Caro is one of my favorite authors, even though he never bothered to look me up in Texas.

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