Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are We Going to Live Long Enough?

Some of y'all know that I'm a political junkie. I've followed national politics for going on sixty years now, and to a lesser extent, international politics. I've paid more attention to that in the last couple of decades than I had previously.

Robert A. Caro won the Pulitzer Prize for The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses, and intended to write a follow-up, a treatment of Fiorello LaGuardia, but after Lyndon Johnson died Caro decided to write his biograghy.

In 1982, Caro published the first book of an intended trilogy about LBJ. On a personal level, I seldom had much use for LBJ, either as a person or as a president, but I did feel that wnen it came to power, he probably knew more about how to get it and how to use it than any other politician in my lifetime. I decided to read the Caro books.

It's been a long journey, and the end is not in sight. Caro published the second volume eight years later, the third volume twelve years after that, and now, after another ten years, the fourth volume, The Passage of Power. The "trilogy" concept has been blasted to smithereens, and a fifth volume will be required. Caro's estimate, which seems optimistic, is that it will take two or three years to write that one.

The third volume, Master of the Senate, brought Caro another Pulitzer, and deservedly so, it says here. No book of the history of anything has been for me such an easy read.

I waited ten years for this fourth volume and am about 500 pages into it. It is *almost* as well written as the third volume, but by page 100 it became clear to me that there would have to be a fifth volume to finish the biography, and I began wondering whether I would live long enough for that. Another ten or twelve years would put me in my eighties, and there are no guarantees along that line.

A little research uncovered Caro's "two or three years" estimate, which *does* seem optimistic, given that the first four volumes took 7, 8, 12, and 10 years to write, If the fifth volume is to be the last it will have to cover LBJ's entire second term and the five years that followed before he died.

But Caro is now 76 years old and may also be wondering whether he will be alive for such a finish. To complete the book in two or three years will require the sacrifice of some quality in its writing - not necessarily in its completeness but in its style. To write as well as Caro wrote in the third and fourth books is a long and agonizing process. Perhaps he has decided to sacrifice that quality in the interests of completing the quintet himself.

In any event, my gift to you is a recommendation to read the third volume, Master of the Senate, and marvel that material so focused on the business of politics can be presented so wondrously, so pleasingly.

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