NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO RECEIVE
PAPERS OF ACCLAIMED BIOGRAPHER ROBERT A. CARO
His Wide-ranging Research for The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Included in the Collection
New York, NY—January 8, 2020— The New-York Historical Society is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Robert A. Caro, the complete archive of the author whose works on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson are regarded as masterpieces of modern biography and history.
The archive covers the sweeping history of New York City and State politics from the 1920s through the 1960s and chronicles the history of the United States from the 1930s through the 1960s. Once it is organized and catalogued, the Robert A. Caro Papers will be made available—without restrictions, as Mr. Caro has stipulated—to researchers in a Robert A. Caro Study Space. Portions of the archive will be digitized. In addition, the archive will provide the basis for a permanent installation, Robert Caro Working. The installation will feature rotating materials drawn from the archive, allowing practitioners and lovers of history and biography to observe the writer and his craft. They will also be able to hear recordings of Mr. Caro speaking in detail about his methods of research and writing and to view his many television interviews.
“We are thrilled that Robert Caro has chosen the New-York Historical Society as the repository of his life’s work,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New-York Historical. “Making Robert Caro’s remarkable archive available to the public will give generations of scholars and researchers access to priceless documentation of some of the 20th century’s most influential public figures.”
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know my papers now have a permanent home at the New-York Historical Society,” said Mr. Caro. “When I was a boy, my favorite aunt often took me to visit New-York Historical while my mother was ill, and in more recent years I’ve spoken there on a number of occasions and been a recipient of its awards. In a strange way, I feel at home at New-York Historical so this announcement makes me just plain delighted.”
The documents in the Caro Papers tell stories that can be found nowhere else. A key aspect of the collection is the thousands of interviews the biographer has conducted throughout his career, with the aim of contacting as many witnesses as possible to the person, issue, or event he is researching. While working on The Power Broker, for example, he conducted more than 500 interviews, including many with the last persons then alive who worked closely with New York State Governor Al Smith and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia; for his third Johnson volume, Master of the Senate, he interviewed scores of Senate staff members to understand how the world of the Senate operated in the mid-20th century. Mr. Caro’s notes and typed transcripts of all the interviews he conducted for his books are in the collection. Also in the collection is original source material such as a copy of the manuscript written by the election judge who stole the crucial votes in Lyndon Johnson’s famous 1948 election to the Senate in which the judge details how and why he did it.
The installation will show stages in Mr. Caro’s work that illustrate the importance he attaches to writing —the quality of the prose—in works of biography and history. His archives contain examples of every stage of his writing process: the outlines, complete from start to finish, that he compiles and tacks up on corkboards in his office before he begins; the legal pads on which he writes, and rewrites, his first drafts in pen or pencil; the typescripts, done in succeeding drafts on his Smith Corona 210 or 220 electric typewriters (which, he notes, went out of production decades ago); the galleys for his books, which are usually covered with heavy pencil rewriting (and often include acerbic comments from his legendary editor Robert Gottlieb, which, in turn, led to many of their legendary arguments); the revised galleys; and the page proofs from which the finished books were set. “I have always felt that the qualities that are acknowledged to be crucial in fiction—things like mood, rhythm, sense of place—are just as crucial in non-fiction,” Mr. Caro said. “Unfortunately, I can’t say I always, or even often, achieved them, but at least in these papers you can see someone trying to achieve them.”
For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Mr. Caro has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, the National Book Award twice, the National Book Critics Circle Award three times, and virtually every other major literary honor, including the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 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.” In 2008, he was awarded New-York Historical’s History Makers Award, and in 2013 he received its American History Book Prize for The Passage of Power. In 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, saying: “I think about reading The Power Broker back when I was 22 years old and just being mesmerized, and I’m sure it helped shape how I think about politics.” (In reviewing The Passage of Power, President Clinton called the book “brilliant . . . important . . . Remarkable. With this fascinating and meticulous account Robert Caro has once more done America a great public service.”)
“Caro has a unique place among American biographers,” the Boston Globe has said. “He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” The Washington Post said: “Caro’s work is the gold standard; he has become an almost mythic figure, relentless in the ever-elusive pursuit of truth.” After his last book, the New York Times Book Review said: “[Robert Caro] has . . . . measurably enriched our lives with his intellectual rigor, his compassion, his openness, his wit, and grace.”
Mr. Caro graduated from Princeton University and was later a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. For six years, he worked as an investigative reporter for Newsday. His most recent book is Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, a memoir of his experiences as a researcher and writer that offers a firsthand perspective on the process and personal impact of writing his landmark books. Currently, he is at work on the fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. He lives in New York City with his wife, the writer and historian, Ina Caro.
About the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library
The New-York Historical Society’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library is one of the oldest and most distinguished research libraries in the world, containing more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, atlases, newspapers, broadsides, music sheets, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings. The Klingenstein Library is one of only 20 libraries in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association. Among its collections are far-ranging materials relating to the founding and early history of the nation; one of the best collections of 18th-century newspapers in the United States; an outstanding collection of materials documenting slavery and Reconstruction; an exceptional collection of Civil War materials; collections relating to trials in the United States prior to 1860; American fiction, poetry, and belles-lettres prior to 1850; and American travel accounts from the colonial era to the present day.
The Library continues to receive important research materials relating to education, philanthropy, social service, and the history of New York and the nation, including the records of the Children’s Aid Society, the archives of the New York Sun, and significant additions to the architectural and photographic collections. In 2013, the New-York Historical Society Library was a finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, and in 2015, Time Inc. donated to the Library its 20th-century archive, comprised of millions of documents and artifacts.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.