For Robert Caro, Less Is More
For Robert Caro, Less Is More (Yes, We Know He Just Wrote an 1,100-Page Book). A Visit to His Austere Office.
The prizewinning, best-selling biographer Robert A. Caro works in a monastic room 22 floors above midtown Manhattan, yet even its spartan trappings are a bit lavish for him. “I wish it was smaller,” Caro says. “My office on Long Island, which I really like, is 8 by 12. It’s a shed out behind my house.” He showed us around the place just before Master of the Senate (Knopf, $35), the 1,100-page third volume of his Lyndon Johnson bio, hit stores. –TP
THE FILE CABINETS bulge with transcripts of interviews conducted by the writer and his only researcher–his wife. He explains, “You simply start at one end of the file cabinets and go through them, numbering when you come to a quote you want to use. You go to some files and they have no numbers in them, which means I basically wasted months of my life.” THE DESKS bear the tools of composition–stacks of white legal paper and a Smith Corona typewriter. “My friends tell me most publishing contracts contain a clause saying that you have to hand it in on a disc. No one’s ever mentioned that to me.” THE CORKBOARD is still tacked over with an outline of the last chapter he revised–as well as a yellowed page of notes for his first chapter and a photo of the Senate chamber. THE DESK LAMP, because it features a small sculpture of a charging chariot, might count as the only thing here that’s not purely functional, but even it has its uses. When Caro was reworking a chapter on Johnson’s determination to pass the 1957 Civil Rights Act, he taped a note to it: “‘Is there desperation on this page?’… I wanted the rhythms of the sentences to reflect desperation.” DRESS CODE He commutes in coat and tie. “I…try to remind myself that I’m working.”