“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Terry Pratchett
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his work.” Virginia Woolf
It is the writer’s curse and blessing alike; the constant desire and urge to get as close to the subject as possible, the always present necessity to show empathy and understanding, but, at the same time, the need not to become too in-fluctuated and enchanted with the matter at hand. These are diametrically opposed and competing forces dominating the writing process, and only the best biographers manage to reconcile them. Keeping a healthy distance without surrendering access turns out to be even more challenging when the author in question strives to go well beyond the classical genre of biography, devoting his work to exploring the question of acquiring, maintaining and wielding political power and influence.
Approaching the work of renowned author
using superlatives in describing his work comes natural. Having won numerous awards, among them the
two times, his peers believe him to be perhaps the greatest biographer of the 20th century, indeed, perhaps the greatest one the States has ever produced thus far.
Robert Caro, however,
the notion that he is writing biographies at all, telling his audiences that his primary interest is to explore and analyse the nature of political power, explaining why he has chosen such colourful figures as
Caro achieved notoriety after publishing his book
in 1974, attempting to shed light on the forces at play which transformed Robert Moses into the most powerful man in New York politics. He never tires to
what a learning-curve writing this book has been for him, characterising Moses as a political genius. Writing this book, he maintains more than 4 decades later, has also had enormous bearing on his own working methodology and research techniques.
In 1982, Caro published the first book of his biographical series
subsequently following up with three additional books on the man’s life and legacy, bringing the total up to four. Anticipating the fifth and last book to come out, the public was somewhat surprised to learn that Caro has defied prevailing conventions by embarking on an enterprise most of his contemporaries would rather stay away from, writing his book
which includes essays and reflections taking the reader behind the scenes of Caro’s work. Most writers are not all too eager to volunteer their working-methods, guarding them jealously like trade-secrets, but Caro has no such compunctions. Speaking in various venues about his book just published days ago, he talks about his own interviewing techniques, the impact of digital technology on doing research and, naturally, about the role luck and chance play in getting to the bottom of an issue. Occasional luck, it seems, is the inevitable companion of greatness and success, and Caro, to his credit, has no qualms admitting it.
Dear reader, I have been wondering what to do in May when I am on vacation for the first time in nearly a year. The answer has just come in time, and I already look forward to three weeks of sitting in the afternoon sun in Berlin, zipping on a Glas of French Red-wine, devouring all of Caro’s writings. These are the most cherished moments of my life at present, sitting down with good books, letting the world around me disappear and filtering out the white city noise. Before you ask, yes, I will heed the advice given to Caro as a young investigative reporter many decades ago by his
and turn every page, literally.
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