Robert Caro Interview Excerpt
- CS: Having studied literature and having begun your career as a journalist, I was wondering if you think of yourself as a writer first and a historian second.
- Robert Caro: It’s not quite that. It’s that I feel like with writing, the level of the prose is just as important in nonfiction, as fiction … 99 percent of [nonfiction books] or more, you can see that the author doesn’t really think that the writing matters… He got the facts and he’s got to put them down on the page. But my feeling is that if you want a nonfiction book to endure, the same things that we think are important in fiction—like sense of place, narrative drive, rhythms, that reinforce the words, that let the reader see the place where it’s happening—they’re just as important, and that’s not a belief that’s really held, and so I wanted to test it out. When I was first starting The Power Broker, I took the novel that’s most like a great long work of real history, which is War and Peace, and then I took [British historian Edward] Gibbon, and I would read a couple chapters of Gibbon and then a couple chapters of Tolstoy, and the level of writing—you can fool me about almost anything, but you can’t fool me about writing—the writing is just as important. So when I was doing something like Lyndon Johnson, when he gets out of the hospital… and he’s so far behind [during his first race for senator], and he’s desperate to catch up, I remember putting a note, scotch-taping it to that lamp: “Is there desperation on every page?”—not just the facts.