|Robert and Ina Caro.|
Caro's birthday is, appropriately enough, the day after the birthday of James Boswell. Boswell is surely the most famous English-language biographer of all time.
Caro graduated from Princeton in 1957 and earned an M.A. degree from Harvard. He was a journalist before he settled down to write his biography of Moses.
His first, masterly, biography was about a New York City area planner-developer, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974). This book was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the 20th century. Time magazine listed it as one of the hundred top nonfiction books of all time. It won Caro his first Pulitzer Prize in Biography, in 1975.
Robert Caro has since spent one-third of a century writing what was to be a three-volume biography of his equivalent of Dr. Samuel Johnson - President Lyndon B. Johnson. The number of volumes has expanded already to four, and the fifth volume is intended to cover only LBJ's presidential years, so that six volumes are likely.
For his biographical volumes, Caro has won three National Book Critics Circle Awards (for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and Best Biography); the National Book Award; and the Francis Parkman Prize (awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist"). He has also won the Gold Medal in Biography from the National Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.
The four volumes so far of the Years of Lyndon Johnson series have been called by the London Times "the greatest biography of our era." The LBJ books have appeared so far as follows:
1. The Path to Power (1982),Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said of the series: "It's a wonderfully written set of books. [...] It's about ideas and principled policy achievements. That's what makes it one of the great political biographies." Former British Conservative Party Leader William Hague said that Means of Ascent is "the best political biography of any kind, that I had ever read. [I]t conveyed more brilliantly than any other publication what it really feels like to be a politician." Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Master of the Senate "magnificent". Former Vice President Walter Mondale called it "a superb work of history".
2. Means of Ascent (1990),
3. Master of the Senate (2002), winner of Caro's second Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and
4. The Passage of Power (2012).
For the LBJ series, Robert and his wife Ina Caro - who has been his sole research assistant - are said to have consulted 34 million documents at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. He has conducted more than one thousand interviews. He lived in Johnson's hometown for three years, so that he could get to know the people there well enough that they would open up to him. He also identified and interviewed every surviving member of Johnson's grammar school class.
Ina Caro has meanwhile written two well-regarded books of her own, on her travels in France and the connection between the places that she has visited and French history. I read her book The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France (1996) prior to spending two weeks in France last month, and she inspired Alice and me to visit and write about Vaux le Vicomte, the home of Louis XIV's first finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet.
See also James Boswell