Turn Every Page

Turn Every Page

I love reading biographies, and the master of the genre is Robert A. Caro.

Fascinated by power and the people who wield it, he has written The Power Broker, a monumental biography of Robert Moses, who during a 50-year period shaped modern-day New York City; and a multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson: The Path to PowerMeans of AscentMaster of the Senate, and The Passage of Power, with at least one more volume to come. 

For these works, he has won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, the National Humanities Medal, and dozens of other major awards. 

Based on that list, you might think that reading his books would be a slog, but it’s just the opposite. They’re like novels. They grab you and won’t let go. My first experience of this was reading the opening of The Path to Power, a lyrical and moving portrait of the Texas Hill Country, where Lyndon Johnson grew up. I was hooked before Johnson ever entered the scene. 

Even more than for his beautiful writing, Caro is known for relentless and exhaustive research. In his early career as a journalist, his editor told him, “Turn every page,” and Caro has followed that maxim ever since.

He describes that early encounter and many others in his book Working, a writer’s memoir describing his methods. Accompanying the book is an exhibit at the New York Historical Society that's called, appropriately, “Turn Every Page.”

I saw the exhibit during a recent trip to New York and recommend it heartily. Caro and the curators, in addition to artifacts from his career, have spread out pages along a wall that show his progress through the stages of manuscript, editorial corrections, galleys, and final pages.  

In this way visitors, following Caro’s example, can turn every page.