tv Robert Caro Working CSPAN May 12, 2019 1:00pm-2:36pm EDT
book, biased, uncovering the hidden prejudice that shapes what we see, think and do. thank you so much. >> i appreciated thank you. [no audio] >> this and oliver "after words" programs are available at podcast and can be viewed on a website booktv.org. . . . >> hi everybody. i'm glad to see you, thank you. thank you so much for coming to tonight's program featuring
robert caro and conan o'brien. [applause] >> i am andrea grossman, the founder of writers block now sailing to the end of our 30 third year. in. [applause] if you are not yet on the email list, sign-up. we just added senator amy klobuchar. so, www.writers block .com. >> the last time he visited was in 2002 for the master of the senate. it was unforgettable. bob's story is about the genius of the political machine. painted a picture of the powerbroker extraordinaire who simply had no p or. like his subject, robert caro has no peer.
he's treated us to slight left turns in the narrative. his divergence into fascinating bystanders. divergence so rich in detail and character that they might form the basis of future studies and of themselves. so consider his new book, "working" them as a companion piece to his great moses and johnson book. today in 2019, it's more pleasant than ever about power used for good and power used against the greater good. as the book answers for questions, it raises more. into the ways and wise he does what he does with such graceful shorthand. as the smart more intellectual
evidence enough as to why he takes so long to crank out the next volume. he gives us the background on the reason he goes through every sheet of paper in every file to get to the truth. the essence of political power. while bob holmes libraries are in wide, it's conan who possesses a lot of media power. his late-night comedy beats to its own drum and he's one of the funniest guys on the planet. he's also an armchair presidential scholar and therefore, achingly ardent robert caro the vote. here's a guy who calls the johnson series, our harry potter. [laughter] here's a guy who offers national airtime to offers and they say, no. then i medicate these in the new york times not too long ago which reiterated conan's lingering sadness that robert caro is the one that got away. until tonight everybody! [applause] so, here's what's
going to happen. conan and bob will chat and when there is, feel free to ask very brief questions. like, one sentence. there are microphones that will be in the aisle afterwards, bob will sign copies of "working" and one copy of another book of his. to get that other book signed, you have to have a copy of "working". if you haven't purchased working already, i don't know why you haven't. do it tonight. you know that he doesn't come to la often for book signings. the last time he visited writers block was in 1992. don't wait another 17 years. i know all of you want to get pictures of conan and bob together. but we want you to put your cell phones away and enjoy the program. when i bring these two great guys out, i want you to stand
[applause] had he just written path to power, it would have been enough. had he written every single one of these books enough, - - okay? we will get this next book when he stammered - - please damn well ready to give it to us. are you cool with that? i'm just going to talk. i'm not going to let you talk at all. i finally got you and i'm not going to let you speak. this is amazing, i am really doing well. i love the book, "working". and i will tell you why i have read all of your work and i'm a huge fan. i knew that you were thorough as a researcher and writer. but i had no idea until i read this book that you were - - that i could use so many words dedicated, compulsive,
committed that you were taught very early. a man, i think it was alan hathaway at newsday. told you when you were doing research, turn every page. you took it literally and i think you've taken it farther than any biographer in the history of the written word. tell us about that. >> well, i was a young reporter at newsday. still doing very short stories. so an accident, i got thrown into an investigative. i had to go down and go through a bunch of files out of federal agencies. and i came back and wrote a memo for the real reporters who would write the story the next day. and we had a managing editor was an old guy from the 1920s. he was a guy with a big head. just hair around the back.
the head was very red because he started drinking very early in the day. we never knew that alan - - whether alan graduated from college or even went to college but he really had a prejudice against people from prestigious universities. i went to princeton. they hired me while he was on vacation as a joke on him. so he would walk by my desk every day on the way to his office and he never talked to me and i'd say, good morning mr. hathaway or hello allen. he would never even answer me. so this one guy, i had to go down. everyone was on a picnic and no one could be reached. i wrote a long memo. the next morning his secretary
called me and said allen wants to see right away.i said, you see i was right not to move. i'm about to be fired. all the way into the office, i was sure i would be fired. his secretary said to me, go in. he had a glass-enclosed office and i could see this big red head, bent over beating me something very intently. and i saw it was my memo that he was reading. waved me to a chair he said i didn't know someone from princeton could go through files like this. from now on, you do investigative work. i have - - [indiscernible]. i said i don't know anything about investigative work . >> he looked at me for what i remember as a very long time and said, just remember one
thing. turn every page. never assume anything. and i can't tell you how many times in my life that stuck with me and really resulted in me finding something. >> you say in the book where you are maybe a document away from this great discovery and you're in these massive rooms. rooms the size filled with documents and you don't think you'll find anything. and it's the next box anything, this is a waste of time but you do it anyway and that's where you find the document that blows everything apart. >> that happened a number of times. one example of it. when i was doing lyndon johnso , he comes to congress at the age of 29 in 1937. and you can't go through every page in the johnson library.
i really want to paint a picture of what a young congressman's life was like in the first years.i said i'll do every page in this 10-11 boxes. i'm going through these things. very innocuous letter. your thinking as you always think, you'rewasting another month . and, all of a sudden i noticed there was a change. at a certain point and the point was october 1940. before that, he had been the junior congressman writing to senior congressman. after that, after election day, november 5, 1940. all of a sudden, a lot of the letters to this junior congressman or lyndon, can i have five minutes of your time. so i was then interviewing an old - - don't think anyone is old enough to remember him.
an old washington fixer. named tommy. i said to him, so what happened in october 1940? and he said, money, kid. he used to call me money. but he said you're never going to be able to write about that. i said why not? i said linda never put anything in writing. but i'm going through these things and i'm going to want a nokia was letter after another. all of a sudden, the next document is this western union telegraph from october 1940. it's from george brown which is the texas firm which is financing lyndon johnson and he's getting them increasingly big federal contracts. and the telegram says, lyndon, the checks are on the way. lyndon replies himself on the bottom of it in writing. i'm not responding to these
people were telling anyone about them so you thank them. the six names were in there and because they were there i could cross reference to their letters and find out who they were. when that happened you say, i'm going to keep going. i found another thing which to me is one of the most remarkable documents that i ever came across. it's a list, it's tight.six pages long. both of john's assistance, john connolly. and walter jenkins. they both told me that they had typed it. whoever typed it, this is what it was. to type columns. in the left-hand column there is the name of the congressman. in the center column, how much money he wants and what he needs it for.
the amounts are so small. >> by today's standards, yeah. >> like $450 for last-minute advertising. >> those of the rates i get today by the way. but go ahead. [laughter] >> in the left-hand column in lyndon johnson's own handwriting, he wrote, if he was going to give the person the full amount of money that the guy asked for, he wrote, okay. if he's going to give them part of the money, okay $500. for some of them, he wrote, none. for some of them he wrote, non
, out to be i asked john connolly what did it mean when lyndon johnson wrote none out? he said i can still remember his tone, that guy was never going to get any money from lyndon johnson. lyndon johnson never forgot and he never forgave. so in this one month, somehow congress became aware that if you wanted money from texas. you have to go through this junior congressman and all of a sudden he was on the road to national power. >> what's fascinating to me is the tenacity there to touch every documentary to turn it over. to read everything, even if you have to go through 5000 boxes. you'll go through all 5000 boxes just in case. the flipside to that which i think is completely unprecedented, is ready to have a sense of place. a sense of place when you're writing about these people. these powerful men. but you couldn't write about him unless you lived in the whole country. you went and you lived there.
and we need to give a shout out right now to your incredible wife. why think is here tonight. rina is here. [applause] stand up, rina. use it to your wife, we need to move to the whole country in texas and live there for possibly a year or two in order for me to write about lyndon johnson. and she gave a very different answer from what my wife who is also here tonight, would say. she said, let's go. that is absolutely incredible. >> that's not what she said. [laughter] [applause] >> she said why should she write a biography of napoleon. [laughter] [applause] >> but she moved to the hill country and it worked as there
are a lot of people who were reticent that they wouldn't talk to you but once you were living there, you could understand the people and they grew to accept you and people started to talk about lyndon johnson would not have spoken to you before. >> you know i had tried. i always think you are the best interview but i always thought i was a good interviewer. the hill country starts - - started then in the west end and went on for 300 miles. there were hardly any people there. you drive 47 miles out of boston and watch for the cattle guard and you turn left. you might go 30 miles and at the end of the would have been
a house. and you suddenly realize, i haven't passed the house in 30 miles. these people were so lonely. they just weren't used to talking to people. and what you said before was such a perceptive remark. they believe it was wrong to say anything derogatory about a man who became president. >> even if they really didn't like him. they thought he was unpatriotic. the man became president and you don't say bad things about presidents. and man, how things have changed.[laughter] there's a really striking moment where one of lyndon johnson's relatives are trying to explain. it's so pivotal in johnson's life. his father was his idol and his father had a ranch and it
failed. the family became a laughingstock. you were trying to understand that failure. and relatives made you kneel down and put your hands in the soil of that ranch and you realized it was only soil for an injury to - - an inch or tw , and then it was rock. >> there was so little soil on top of the rock that as soon as you try to do anything with it, the grass was eaten and washed away. i didn't realize as i sort of thought lyndon's father was this wonderful legislator for this wonderful man. - - really didn't like the way i talked about johnson. she said now, get out of the
car. she said kneel down and stick your fingers into the ground. and it looks so beautiful. just what you said. because lyndon johnson's father. >> so there was this change in lyndon johnson's bitterness between father and son. any other biographer would say, i'm getting a few accounts here and there. you went to lyndon johnson's brother, sam. and you wanted sam to get you back to the moment. during that period of
disillusionment. she did her thing and acting teacher might do that's very unusual. you took sam to the actual house and had them sit at the table. that was obviously, we created. you had him sit at the table where he would sit and you sat behind him where he could see you. and you prodded him over and over again in a really intense way to remember what it was like to remember what he did and he started talking. >> when i started, of course one of the first people i went to see, his name was sam houston johnson. he was lyndon's little brother. he has a reputation of being a heavy drinker and full of bravado and braggadocio.
i found that was true. most the stuff he told me - - i said i've wasted enough time with them and i'm not going to talk to him anymore. in the interim, the next year or so, i heard he had a terrible operation for cancer. and that he had stopped drinking. one day i'm walking around because i used to do that a lot. walk around this little town to get to know the people. and there he was coming towards me and he was a different man. he had a cane. he was hobbling. when i started to talk to him i said, this is really a different guy. i knew by this time that whatever the secret of lyndon johnson's desperate ambition.
has to do with his relationship with his father. who he idolized until he was 12-13 years old. he said the happiest days of my life, his father was a legislator. then his father next this one mistake. he loses the johnson brands. for the rest of lyndon johnson's boyhood, they lived in a house that every month they were afraid would be taken away from them. there's often no food in the house because his mother was sick. neighbors had to bring cover dishes for charity. and lyndon johnson's feelings toward his father changed from idolization, love, to a real hatred. and i really wanted to get a picture of what it was like. so as you say, i got the national park service.
so now he was a team player to me. i wanted to try him again. i thought of an idea that might get him to remember accurately. i got the national park service to say i couldtake him into the johnson boyhood home . we created in johnson city. after all the tourists were gone and we were alone. i decided to take him around dinnertime around 6:00. much like dinner when he was a boy as possible. as you say, i asked him to sit in his place at the table. his father sat at one end and the mother at the other end.a bench on one side with the three sisters and the other side was lyndon and sam. so i did in fact sit behind them because i didn't want anything to distract. i said tell me again about these arguments that lyndon and his father had at dinner. at first, he was really slow i
remember. it was going fast. suddenly he was just sort of shouting a conversation. lyndon, you're a failure. you will always be a failure. i felt it was back in his boyhood. i said to him, now i want you to tell me again all those wonderful stories about lyndon growing up that you told me before and everybody else has been telling me. only give me a few more details. there was a longer pause. finally he said, i can't. i said why not? is it because they never happened. and then without another word, i didn't have to do anything. he just learned telling me the very different story about lyndon johnson's growing up that's in the path to power. this time when i went back to the other people who were involved, they said yes, that is what happened and they gave
me more details. >> it was the story on johnson before your book was the typical - - rights to riches, everyone loved him. he was popular. and you went back. and through this process which is very unusual. you got this completely different picture of johnson. even down to noticing when you are looking at his old yearbooks in high school. it took you a while but you figured out pages were missing and the same pages were missing from all your books. because they have been unfavorable. and lyndon johnson had them removed. who does that? [laughter] that is a level - - it took you a long time. when you found the pages, he found people really didn't like him in school. >> no. he had the nickname in college, - - met just what you think it
meant. but also, when you came across and someone said to you, why are you bothering me with these questions. i said we are in black and white. i said in the yearbook. i said i must have missed of those pages. when i turned to those pages, they were gone. you say, what sort of an individual am i dealing with here? he's 21 years old and he has these pages cut out of almost all the copies of his college yearbook.>> he knew at 21, he had to get rid of those pages. >> exactly. amazing. >> it's interesting and i'm
curious if it was a coincidence or not. you have chosen to men, moses and johnson, to really devote your life to writing about. both of those men went to great extremes more than anybody would, to hide their past as they were living it. almost as if they knew you'd be coming for them one day. [laughter] you didn't choose two guys who were leaving notes and memos everywhere. you chose two guys who went to great extremes to not write anything down. one of them is at the age of 21, cutting out unfavorable pictures and notices from his yearbook. you chose incredibly difficult people towrite about . >> not deliberately. >> there might be some connection there. you may have had some sense.
there is a line in the book, "working", that really struck me. you say you look at your work. i think a lot of people think of history as dry in your life's work has been, you don't believe it should be dry. you think it should be alive. it's very important to you. and one of the things you think about the you wrote in this book, "working", a question you ask yourself a lot is there desperation on this page? is there desperation on this page? that is something you ask yourself every time you write a page. >> yes. you read this very carefully. i always felt, and it's something i always did feel. if a work of fiction or biography is going to be
successful, it's going to have the same qualities as a novel has. it's got to have rhythm, a sense of place and that sort of thing. what you are talking about is lyndon johnson, it's his last chance and he's running for senate in 1940. if he loses, his political career will be over. he's decided to leave politics. and he gets a kidney stone and he's behind the polling when he starts and he has to stay in the hospital for i think, it's a month. when he comes out, he so far behind that he can't think of a way of getting ahead. he thinks of this tactic. helicopters were brand-new things in 1940. he says if i campaign around to the small towns in the helicopter, people will come out. and it was but they all called it the machine that stands still in the sky. i spoke to his - - you only find out these things.
he says i will talk to them and they will probably have nothing to say to me. but you never know. the thing was, he was so excited. he would lean out as the helicopter going across texas and with the sides of it as if it was a horse. [laughter] i said you know, you have a picture here of a desperate man. this is his last chance.and i did exactly what you said. i put a note on this lamp on my desperate is there desperation on this page, i try to do it in rhythm. i asked don't think i succeeded very well but, i try. >> no, you succeeded. [laughter] you are fearless as
an interviewer. i was trying to sometimes - - what if i was robert caro, could i do this? so many times i thought, i could not do this. one of the things i found you talk about in "working", issue uncovered that lyndon johnson had a mistress named alice glass. you uncovered that. you have proof and shortly after you found that out, you get a call from the office of lady bird johnson. she said she'd like to speak to you. and that she'd like to talk to you. and you know that she knows that you know. and you went to the interview and you said - - you were never interested in his sex life but now there was something relevant to his career.
and you thought can i go sit with the first lady if she knew what i knew? it's terrifying to think about. what was that like? >> can i just say? >> you can do whatever you want to do.[laughter] >> i wasn't going to write about all of lyndon johnson's affairs. because all if not most of them were one night stands and most didn't have significance. what happened, can't remember if it's in this book are not. i'm reading all of the letters. johnson was in australia during the second world war. you are allowed one call back to the united states. and i knew that franklin roosevelt were taken johnson as a protcgc said to him if you need any advice you can call the white house. and all of a sudden as i'm going through this, there's this telegram and the telegram
says, lyndon, everybody else turned out at the white house. everybody else thinks you should run for the senate. i think you should run again for the house. the last line was hope we can have that birthday party. alice. i had no idea who alice was. nobody really knew this name. and shortly after you say, it's just sheer luck that happened to me. when you sit in the johnson library, the archivist desk. and if there's a call, it has to go through her. the phone rings and she says, it's for you. the hostess and reception desk in the lobby says there are two women here who would like to speak to you. would you come speak to them. i said sure.
they said to me, we read the powerbroker, so we know you'll find out about alice. [laughter] and we want to tell you about her because alice wasn't another bimbo. she was really important in lyndon's life. so to find out about her, she came from a little town in texas. she was a great hostess in washington. she had a grand salon. she came from this little town in the middle of nowhere. i never knew i would go to moreland and talk to her friends that she grew up with. trying to get a picture of her. and i have to say, i hope there's no one here from portland, texas. no one would ever go to moreland except for any other reason. and i got a friend - - a call
from a mutual friend who said, bird - - everyone called lady bird, bird in texas. bird knows you know about alice. i was interviewing - - in her office. all of a sudden, her secretary was standing at my desk saying, this saturday, she'd like you to come to the ranch and to the interview there. so we sat down and i'm talking too long here. she sat at the head of the table. i sat at her right hand with my stenographers notebook that i take notes in. without a word of preamble, she starts to talk about alice glass and she talks about how
beautiful she was and how elegant she was. i remember she said, i remember alice in a series of the most beautiful dresses. and me and dresses, well, not that beautiful. she said whatever alice taught lyndon, he followed for the rest of his life. when she met him he was a 29-year-old congressman and had long gangly arms. she said turn them to your advantage with very nice cufflinks. but she also said, at various times in his life, she saved his political career. one was particularly dramatic to me because, herman brown who was this very fierce, very bad tempered ruler of - - they suddenly came to a real collision point. not long after johnson came to congress. johnson was getting them
contracts but at the same time, he wanted to build a low income housing project in austin. the low income, it was mostly mexican-americans. this poor neighborhood. he owned most of the houses and was getting a good income from it and he was enraged by this. his chief, lobbyist said to me, herman was about to turn on lyndon. and when herman turned on you, he never turned back. >> and johnson really needed herman. he couldn't afford this collision. >> no, they were providing the money to give to other congressmen and to finance his own career. and alice said, just have them down to my estate. she sat them down at the table and she said there's an easy
compromise. give herman the dam and have lyndon, the land. there were various times when he went to her for advice. it wasn't a one night stand. it was sort of a 20-25 year - - the sexual part and it is in 2-3 years but even when he was vice president, years later. he would drive down to her estate in virginia to spend the day with her. >> so you're in a room with lady bird johnson and it just goes unsaid. that it was a sexual relationship. even though she would undoubtedly have known that it was. >> i didn't quite catch that question. >> it was pretty dirty. [laughter] i'm embarrassed to now. - - i'm embarrassed now.
i'm trying to think of another journalist or biographer who sat with the former first lady and discussed - - it's really a captivating moment that doesn't happen much. i don't think that happens. >> i have to say, it's the only interview i ever had where i couldn't bear to look at the person i was interviewing even one spin she talked and i kept taking notes. i couldn't look at her. >> you talk a lot about your process. we've talked about your need to hold the documents. turn every page. go to the actual place whether it's the whole country or capitol hill. an experience with those people experience so you can really feel it. another part of your process is you write everything out
longhand and you really sit with it for a while before you go to the typewriter. use an electric typewriter, is that right? i feel like a prosecutor now. to use or use an electric typewriter? what is it about that process. why does that help you to write it out longhand first and why did you never graduate to what everyone else is using which is a computer? >> that's a really good question. it's because i'm too fast. i've always been too fast. when i was at princeton, the incident that was formative in this is i was in the creative writing course and was taught by a southern gentleman so i took this course for two years. every two weeks you handed in a short story. i thought i was fooling him because of was always doing the
short stories. always very easy for me to write fast. so i'd write some the night before. we used to call it pulling all nighters. i thought i was fooling him about how much work went into it. and then in our very last session, he handed back my short story and he said something complimentary about it which he usually did. and then he said, but you know mr. caro, you will never achieve what you want to achieve, she stop thinking with your fingers. some times in your life, you realize someone has seen right through you. he knew i never put any effort into it. that it was too easy for me to write. then i went to newsday and i was really a faster rewrite man. but when i was - - to do the
powerbroker and i started to realize how complex this was. i'm a member thinking, have to make myself not only think about things but think about them all the way through which was really hard for me. so i decided to slow myself down. that's why i write my first drafts in longhand. >> and then you type into revisions and look things up on the board. you are sloping you are a craftsman. you are methodical about it. >> you are very complementary. you called me a craftsman, in other words calling me very slow. [laughter] >> one thing i was curious about is your standard for biography is so high. you will spend years working on one phase of the book. it occurred to me, it must be
difficult for you to read other people's biographies. because you must all the time be hearing about a great biography and you read it and you realize, this person could have gone further. this person didn't put in as much work. can you sit down and enjoy someone else's biography reducing, you blew it! and throw it across the room? >> there i have to say, i don't have that feeling about other biographies. there are terrific biographies out there. >> okay, that was no fun. [laughter] >> maybe i'm out of my league here. >> no, that's me. there are so many times in the book, "working", this struck
me. how important you feel that imagination is for a biographer. and at first i would think, well, no. a biographer doesn't need imagination. you get the documents and you talk with the people and you do the legwork and then you construct the narrative.so imagination doesn't really come into it. but it was clear when i read "working" that you have really employed imagination. he spent a lot of time when you find out about a moment, say in moses life. where he was trying to imagine what he could do with the west side of manhattan when it was just mud. and a 30 train coming through and you describe, you needed to feel what it was like when moses and his white suit would go up there and look at that spot.
you re-created in a novelistic way. but it's why with the and it's compelling. imagination to you is so key. >> well, imagination is key but it's a biography. unless you have the facts. the reason i was able to talk about how moses and vision the whole west side highway. that great public works project is because i read one day, francis kirkland was later roosevelt's secretary of labor. when she was a young woman, she and robert moses used to walk around new york. one day she wrote in her oral history, one day they're going to a picnic in new jersey. so the ferryboat - - at that
time, the new york central railroad trains were taking pigs to the slaughterhouses. there was this coal burning and constant smog hung over the whole western shoreline of manhattan. the smell was bad and the city couldn't get near its waterfront. and all of a sudden she heard - - she wrote in her oral history. she heard robert moses thing francis, couldn't this waterfront be the most beautiful thing in the world. we have this great highway running along the water. i will have to tear down some buildings at 72nd street but we will have a marina over here. a baseball field should be there. as i'm reading i said, that's exactly how he built it, 25
years later. then you could put things together because people told me how many afternoons he would come back to work until the taxi to put them over to riverside drive. he's a lower-level municipal staffer. and he is envisioning something that's the largest pop public work ever done in america. when you have that fact or those groups of facts. then you could say, this is what he was thinking. , otherwise i couldn't have done that.>> you need the
bricks of fact and this order of imagination but you're putting yourself there. >> that's a great way of putting it. you need the facts first - - bricks first. >> i'm a great writer. [laughter] i've never felt so stupid in my life. you talk about something that's very personal in this book. you say you did not grow up in a house of books. and that was not part of something that was important to your dad. your mother became ill when you are quite young. and she had a dying wish that change the trajectory of your life. >> yeah. well my mother got very sick when i was five. those days, if you had breast cancer and it came back, there
was very little they could do for you. so she died when i was 11. but my father, he came over here from poland and taught himself to write. but he, his language with his friends - - before he died my mother made him promise to send me to the - - harvest man's school. it became the center of my boyhood. >> and it was that horace mann that you got your taste of journalism. >> to this day - - and i have dinner with 2-3 guys who worked
with me 60 years ago. so the first remarkable thing is we are all still alive so if we get up from this table and we haven't set a date for the next meeting. someone said, joe you didn't set a date. this is what's keeping us alive. >> whatever works. you said you have snagged every prestigious prize one can get in your field. you think the biggest honor is the one that horace mann has given you. >> no one's ever asked me. >> someone at npr was like - -
[laughter] wind it out and then send in the next hippie. this is a big deal. >> so some years ago, told us that they'd like to name a prize after me. i said that would really be great if there was something that i believed in. they said what do you want? i think i said earlier in this interview that i feel it's very important and not sufficiently understood that if you want to history or biography to end the war, the level of the right thing has to be the same level as the novel. i believe that. try reading his sentences, he
such a great writer. so they named the prize the harvest man prize for literary excellence in the writing of history. and that's the biggest thrill. to go up there. now they see each year, the number of submissions, you have to do an independent essay. increases. this one teacher, barry weinstock. he said the faculty is talking. that makes me feel totally great. >> i would think so. also to come full circle like that. to have been that horace mann
and then come back now and they're in your name, these kids are getting this prize. >> sometimes i win an award or something and - - says to me, why aren't you excited? it's like it happens to somebody else. but this is me. >> it occurred to me reading about these men you write about that you have devoted your life to. they have something in common with you. and there's a line that people used to say about lyndon johnson. that they never saw anybody work that hard. and it occurred to me, your book is called "working". your work ethic you're honestly
born with these incredible talents but your work ethic to be at this and to be in the harness for years at a time. bears some similarity to these people you write about. do you think that's fair to say? >> is that a compliment? [laughter] >> it is. but i believe that's something, one of the things i find inspiring about you and this book. as we live in the era of attention deficit disorder and apps and everyone's on their phones and no one can pay attention. and you and your wife took of our poverty practically, to work on the moses book and disappeared for 7-9 years with no real, you know, evidence that this would be a big
success. that is counter to the entire culture we are in today. this devotion to work in this devotion to doing your work and doing it well. i found that to be - - there are elements. i know you found unfavorable things about these people you've written about. but there's also amazing qualities about them. like you, both of them were incredibly hard working people in that much resonate with you. >> the quality they share. in many ways lyndon johnson and robert moses are opposite. there are unbelievable amounts of work. i tried - - you do lots of things as a writer to try to remind yourself.
my publisher is really wonderful. he never asked me, when are you going to deliver? i have never been asked. so it takes me so many years that it's easy to fall yourself that you are working hard. because no one is checking up on you. so i do everything i can to remind myself that it's a job. people make fun of me because i wear a tie and a jacket to work. it's because when i was young, people for ties and jackets to work. i write down every day how many words i wrote. just to remind yourself, it's a job. you have to produce. >> you look at the cover of this book and i think a lot of you have it. it you posing in your office where you work and i was thinking, you don't really have a boss and are in this room and you're working. you have this very strong work ethic what time are you writing by in the morning?
>> that's where it varies. you like to say you get up at 730 or whatever. but the truth is - - i'm telling you all the stuff i don't usually talk about. [laughter] you get worked up. as the chapter goes. - - said do you know what time it is. i member, i said, don't tell me. i don't want to know. >> what's interesting is, hemingway's technique. he would say i would stop before the well was dry in the evening so that i knew i could have a beginning in the morning. he would exhaust the field thank in one writing session. do you think about things like that? >> yes. you're the first person that's ever mentioned that. [laughter]
>> why am i in comedy? i have no idea. wasting my life. i could be doing real - - here and i'm not doing it. >> you ask terrific questions. i wrote my senior thesis at princeton on hemingway. one of the things he said was, i always stop when i know what the next sentence is going to be so i can start the next day. i do try to do that also. i think this the best piece of advice i've ever gone. >> just stop a little shy of what you have for that day. my other question is the human question. you're in that office and it's 3:00 in the afternoon. you know you're supposed to do more words. do everything, i'm up here near the west side i can pop out and see a movie? do you ever do that? do you ever just sneak out and see a movie?
rina doesn't have to know about it. >> never in my entire life. >> you're missing out. i want to come by your office one day. knock on the door with prepaid tickets and go to the movies. would you go with me? >> if i don't answer, it's because i'm so deep in the work. >> that's what they all say to me. that's what every girl said to me when i asked her out. if i don't answer, i'm deep in the work. i'm going to open it up to questions now from the audience. and we will take it from there. how long overdue for questions you think? 15 minutes? [inaudible] we will figure it
out. [inaudible] yeah. >> thanks so much for flying down here. i'm a huge fan. i read the new york times piece and i finally found a kindred spirit. i'm wondering how you ended up writing or working on this new york times piece and finally, how did you end up getting the - - >> you're asking the wrong guy a question here. i didn't write that he's been a very good writer who's here tonight. john. he heard about this rumor that i was obsessed with mr. caro in an unhealthy way.
and he wrote that story. and then we ended up making this happen. i tilted this man. i used the new york times to guild them into talking to me. >> besides from work ethic, is there anything in the life of moses or johnson that you found inspirational or have applied in your own life? either what to do or how to be or what not to do or how not to be. is there anything you feel like you've learned from the personality of moses or johnson that you've applied in your own life? >> that's such a good question. let me just think a second. with both of them, i guess i
didn't ever put in these terms before. you feel the most important thing is to keep working at something. like i just did moses envision the west side highway whatever year that was. i think it was 1912. he didn't get the bill until 1937. you've been trying for 25 years. johnson, the book i'm writing right now. you say he's passing all of this social welfare legislation. the civil rights act. headstart. you say, he's working all the time to change the votes in the senate to get these things through. very impressive to me.
how hard these two men worked and never stopped. yes sir. >> mr. caro, i remember reading - - and it seemed as though the next book would cover the next presidency. at one point did you realize the presidency of johnson had to be divided into two books. >> he was wondering at what point did you decide that johnson's presidency would require more than just one book? >> oh, yes. he thought his youth for example, the time i started, i think they were seven johnson biographies and they all told a
chapter or two on his youth. none of them seem to have enough color and detail for me. but then i realized there was this incredible story. those of you that have read the book, those of you that haven't. [indiscernible] [laughter] they were telling you the stories about johnson, really as a ruthless - - even as a young man. but then they would no matter what linden was like, we loved him. it took a while for it to sink in that they were talking about electricity. what did electricity mean. turning on a light switch. you thought this is incredible. that he's managed to transform the lives of these people by
doing something impossible. there's no dam to create the hydroelectric power. then somebody will have to lay, not thousands, but tens of thousands of lines to these isolated farmhouses. as soon as they do, women didn't have to do everything by hand. the water and all. i remember i also told - - i said it's very hard. i said i want to show what government can do for people. i think we've forgotten that. the great power of social security. was it like to be old in america. when you lost your job and you had no money coming in. then there is social security. i'm working right now on a section that you could call
what it was like to be old and sick in america until medicare. i said it's hard to show that if you're talking about a city project. social programs and other immigrants, etc. but here we have a - - the 10th congressional district in the middle of these isolated hill country, cut off from everything. your thing that changes is they get a new congressman. if i can examine what he did for these people, i can show the effects of how government can help people. i constantly come across - - i never thought of this, i want to do this. so that's what makes my book longer.
>> at the end of the most recent volume, passage of power, you start writing about vietnam and a lot of people have speculated that had president kennedy lived, he probably wouldn't have gotten the domestic legislation that johnson got but maybe we wouldn't have gotten hired in vietnam. what do you think of that speculation? >> i think, his legislation was not going anywhere. in many ways, kennedy was a great president and that he lifted our ideals up and he could enunciate the best of america. but the fact is, on the day he was assassinated, his civil rights bill was never going to get - - so johnson, a legislative genius picked that up. as far as vietnam, i'm going to
take a pass on that question because i haven't written it yet or even really thought it completely through yet. so certainly the vietnam thing as it turned out is a horrible story. would it have turned out the same way? i don't think i'm ready to answer you yet. >> would you share with us what first lead you to select robert moses and lyndon johnson as the subject of your life's work? >> sure. could you all hear that question. an incident in my youth. i was a reporter on newsday and i got interested in politics. so i was doing investigative work. so i won minor journalistic awards. when you're very young and you win anything, you think you
know everything. so i thought i understood how political power worked. robert moses wanted to build a bridge. a bridge between - - and oyster bay. so newsday assigned me to look into it. i found out it was a terrible idea and would have generated so much traffic that the long island expressway would have needed 12 extra lanes to handle the traffic to come down from new england. it appears it would have caused pollution in the long island sound. i spoke to rockefeller and his counsel in the speaker of the assembly. everyone understood this was the world's worst idea.
i wrote a story that said the bridge was dead. i had a friend in albany then and about two weeks later, he calls me and says you know bob, i think you better come back up here. i said i don't think i have to bother. i think i took care of that bridge. but robert moses was appear yesterday. so i drove back up and it was one of the revelations of my life. i spoke to the same people. they all thought it was the worlds greatest idea. the state was financing the preliminary work. i said, you think you know about everything i've been writing, it sort of baloney. you think you live in a democracy and power comes from being elected. here's a guy who was never elected to anything. but he has more power than anyone who was elected.
more power than any mayor or governor put together. and he's held this power for 44 years. with that he shaped this whole metropolitan area and you who is supposed to know about political power, you have no idea how he got this power and neither does anybody else. so that was the moment. when i started thinking about that and i didn't really have time to think about it as a book. because as a reporter, you are running every day to do another story. you don't get a chance to think. but then i became what was known as a nieman fellow at harvard university which means you go to harvard for a year while you study. that was the first i remember, that european - - mother was sick and she had to take care of so i was alone a lot of the
time. the nieman foundation used to have a lot of social events and i don't like to go by myself. so i spent a lot of time in this little office that harvard gave me and i came up with the idea of the powerbroker. when i finished doing robert moses. i really thought that was a book not about him but about power and cities. i wanted to do national power and that's why i did lyndon johnson. >> you mentioned at the end of working in the interview that you once met or saw lyndon johnson. i was curious the circumstances behind that. >> he was asking about the one time in your life that you actually saw in the flesh, lyndon johnson. >> the one time i saw him - - i never talked to him or anything. i was a substitute political reporter when he ran against goldwater. and he came along the press line where i was with the line of reporters. i think we actually shook
hands. but that was only, ever saw him in the flesh. >> hi. this is more than an honor. more of a fan boy question. in the first couple of johnson books, it was hard to get the people closest to him to talk. when the book came out, you got, but nobody more than jack valente. then he did a real about-face and praised you to high heaven, rightfully. did that make it easier for you to get interviews from the people closer to johnson, subsequently? >> he was asking, after the early books came out, you took a lot of heat from johnson's friends, especially jack valente. and then he said that valente turned around and started to really praise you.
i think your question was, did that mean a lot to you? >> it's not just valente. a lot of the johnson people who attacked me and wouldn't talk to me at the beginning, they almost all came around. and really, they are very helpful. i was in austin last night. [inaudible] [laughter] >> guards, remove this man. [laughter] >> i just want to jump in quickly. i always heard that your books are not sold at the johnson library. if you go to the gift shop,
they are not sold, is that true? >> they were not sold for a number of years. at a wonderful dinner the johnson library had last night. the president of the foundation sort of said that they regretted the hostility towards me. >> that's amazing. [applause] >> is there any chance a new edition of powerbroker would be published that restores the 300,000 words that your publisher forced you to cut? >> you live and hope. [laughter] my publisher would like to publish. i would like to publish all of those words. but it's not so easy to do that. you just don't put it back into the book.
so it's a lot of work but i hope to do that, yes. >> if you had worked on a word processor or computer, you could hit one button and it all restores immediately. do with that what you will. yes? >> will you please comment on operation texas and johnson's reverence for judaism. there's something called operation texas. are you familiar with that? okay, that's okay. >> i'm a retired history teacher. i only read history. i read all the johnson books twice and i think i speak for all the people here that think, you're the finest biographer i have ever read. a - - [applause]
>> i hope you heard that. good. >> my question is this, johnson had a number of important mentors along the way. men and women. alice, franklin roosevelt, sam rayburn. is there one you might point to that you thought was most pivotal. >> it was the most pivotal or important of all his mentors. >> those three that you mentioned. i called them the 3rs. they were all equally, russell and rayburn shared two characteristics. they were incredibly lonely men. johnson made himself a people called a professional son to
them. he's inviting them to his house for sunday brunch.for dinner. lady bird would make them feel at home. he spent as much time with them as he possibly could and they were instrumental in raising him to power. roosevelt was different. roosevelt never made protcgcs of young congressmen. he just had a role. he didn't help. i started to realize there was one exception to this. it was lyndon johnson. johnson would have breakfast with him. i said to a man named james rowe who was a friend of johnson. i said what made this different for franklin roosevelt he said,
roosevelt was a political genius. almost no one understood what he was talking about. lyndon johnson understood at all from the first minute and roosevelt saw that. it was just two geniuses. and roosevelt once said to dickies, he said if i had gone to west texas, i might have turned out like that too. yes sir. >> when you're doing interviews, people are aware they're talking about history and they care how they look. how do you decide what to believe? >> i never believe anything that shows told to me in an interview once. you interview people over and over again. i think i had 22 interviews. several hundred pages of typed
notes. then you go to other people involved in the story. and you ask them the same questions. then you go back to the same person you said so and so, how do you reconcile that? it's very laborious. and then of course, for so much of johnson. you have written notes. he never allowed minutes to be taken at meetings but somebody had to take notes on them. one way or another - - people are not trying to mislead you. they're just told so many times, they think it's true. but often it's not. [laughter] >> who were the most important influencers as far as biographers as far as your - -
>> it's given. i member i was captivated. his sentences - - what makes history and door? you know? to me, it has to be written really well. and there are a lot of historians. but he stands alone. >> thank you for being here and for your work. i'm a journalist with aspirations of writing nonfiction books like yourself. i'm wondering if you can speak to your relationship to - -
especially at the beginning of your career. you have to sell your house for instance to cover your living expenses. i'm wondering if - - was present for you or if that's a chip that's missing. >> it's a really good question and one that i was interested in bringing up. she's asking basically, you had to, you sold your home to pay for the powerbroker. at one point, your back goes out and you're telling - - i need to go. you have no money. she's getting the records and you're telling her take a left, take a right. the question is, how did you deal with doubt. you're lying there and you have no money. you're writing a book that
you're not sure how long it will take. i believe your wife had to go to work and support you. doubt. how do you fight that doubt that a lot of us would have. oh my god, what have i done? >> i didn't fight it very successfully. it was a big part of my life for a long time. the first editor i had was not - - i used a i started the powerbroker for the world. the advance was $5000 but you got $2500 in advance. so i was a reporter and i was basically didn't have any say. i got a grant that got me through one year. i thought i would be done in nine months.
i told - - we would finally get to go to france. then we were really out of money and i came home one day and - - said we sold the house. unfortunately it was before the real estate boom so we bought it for $45,000 and we sold it for $70,000. that got us to one year. i just remember at times being broke. i finally wrote half 1 million words. i gave it to my editor who took a long time to read and return my telephone calls. then he took me to a very inexpensive chinese restaurant on broadway.
and i remember he said, we like the book. i said basically, can i have the other $2500. he said to me, no bob, i guess you didn't understand me. we want you to continue with it but nobody's going to read a book on robert moses and you have to be prepared for very small printing and we are not prepared to go beyond the terms of the contract. which even i got. so that was a very bad period. i didn't know where to turn. i had run out of places to get money. luckily, very luckily, the editor left to this publishing
house so i could leave. i didn't have an agent. i knew now i had better get one. i'm a member she called and said to me come and see me. she said i like your manuscript and i want to represent you but you have to tell me something. why are you - - what are you so worried about? i said, i didn't know i looked worried. i said i'm worried i won't have enough money to finish the book. she said how much are you talking? i don't remember the amount but it was enough to live on for two years. she looked at me and she said is that what you're worried about because this other editor many feel no one cared about
this book. she said is that what you're worried about? you can stop worrying right now. i can get this for you by picking up this telephone. everybody in new york knows about this book. so financially my life turned around then. [applause] ... do you have a feeling of this too shall pass an we can get on with the next one?
>> i don't know -- i think it's too early to tell you. we don't really know if it's an operation. >> we had a discussion wondering if he was an outlier, crazy set of, i'm not going to say skills but characteristics that allow him to thread the needle in this moment at this particular time and once he pass, that's it or a sign of things to come. what do you think? >> yeah, crazy roman emperors. i don't know the answer to that. i don't think we know the answer to that yet. >> hi, thank you both for your passion and your scholarship. i'd like to know what advice you'd give to a room full of writers in an age where perhaps
people's attention spans are wondering, maybe in not in this room but in the rest of life. what advice would you give to new writers? >> in this age of wandering attention spans, what advice would you give to writers now when things can seem a little dire for the process that you've dedicated your life to? >> i don't have any advice to other writers. i think everybody has to find their own way. i don't think that my way is necessarily the best way. it's just my way. i think it's a very tough time for writers but i happen to think the time is already starting to turn back, books have leveled off. i feel people keep saying, attention spans are shorter and
shorter. well, i will tell you the only field that i know anything about the presidential biography, so david's book on truman was about 1100 pages, that sold many more copies than other presidential biographies up till then. i think the proof is everywhere around us that not necessarily our attention spans are shorter. i think people want, terrific writers, i happened to think there's always a desire to find out how things really happened and i don't think you find that out by very short time.
[applause] [applause] >> rob will be signing books, we will see you soon. [inaudible conversations] >> full line-up of nonfiction authors and books tonight on prime time. first up mel enda gates with women around the world, discuss u.s. expansion since the founding of the country. also tonight republican senator
mike lee of utah talks about his new book, journalists examines which a socialist system would look like in america and jack lean jackson and her son, former congressman will discuss the letters they wrote to one another while incarcerated. that's all tonight in prime time, check your cable guide for more information. >> please to be joined by author and professor, roxanne, newest book which she edited, it's called not that bad, rape culture, how did this book come about. >> i pitched this book to my publisher after about feminism came out and i wanted to encourage and invite more voices into the conversation about sexual violence and so i thought a good way to do that would be