Robert Caro’s Continuing Odyssey: Daring the Life-Line Calendar?

Or: Does He Really Expect to Publish #5 Before His Time is Up?

Who Says He Isn’t Concerned with the “Age Issue”? Isn’t it Obvious?

Mr. Caro had a very productive career in research/writing and publishing his much-ballyhooed LBJ biography (what he calls “the study of power and its usage”). His books spanned over four decades (1972-2012) on the life and times of Lyndon B. Johnson: An average of one book per decade.

Segueing now, after Caro’s last decade of work, to the latest news from him, it is now being announced and it turns out that he is “far from concluding” his work, a part of which—a trip to Vietnam for further research—has yet to be done, and has evidently not even been scheduled.

In my opinion, the manuscript is probably about 95% or more complete and nearly ready to publish—except perhaps for whatever he postulates about Vietnam—and the Index, which is the last major step before setting a galley proof. I personally doubt that it will be published until after his death. The reason for that opinion is that I believe he can say in death what he could not previously, as a mere mortal. Perhaps the chances of this becoming true are only 50-50, like a flip of a coin.

As with every update like this latest one, or the countless articles about how he “turns every page,” the old shibboleth—about how his works are above mere biographical standards—is trotted out, as stated in the aforementioned article: “Caro has always thoughts [sic] of his books as not so much the portrait of a man, but of political power and its effects.”

That must be a very important point to get across, because it provides him a crutch to lean on if anyone should attempt to point out to him, or editor Gottlieb, that there are numerous pages related to his subject that have still not been turned—or merely ignored—as I’ve noted at least a dozen times, summarized HERE. It provides them both with the option of saying merely that he/they never intended his works to be a complete “biography” of the man, it’s merely a study of how he accrued and administered “power.”

Such a dodge might work as “the last word” in a press conference, or a news article in a politically-correct magazine like The Atlantic, but unfortunately for them it will not stand the test of time, since the premise fails under even minimal scrutiny: How can such wanton, fraudulent and criminal activity—that ultimately sent Johnson’s partners-in-crime Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker to prison, but left the pernicious instigator and master thief free to become President after his biggest-ever treason—be left out of the cornucopia of tools he used to execute power? To hide much of Johnson’s clear involvement in serious criminal conduct is not doing “justice” for himself, much less for the sake of “national security.”

It is troubling to see how two very accomplished men have been reduced to using tortuous semantical tricks like that to justify producing a highly-overrated, abridged version of LBJ’s life story that was designed from the start to reframe history; to change the focus away from what is well known about his darker side, as if to stifle truth; to replace factual history with more myths (i.e. lies that become generally accepted as fact).

The goal of course, from the first book of his series, was to establish Robert Caro as the de facto official biographer of Lyndon Johnson (even while sprinkling in the standard shibboleth noted above). That part certainly worked.

But in the long-term, just as accusations of plagiarism have bedeviled certain well known historian/biographers such as Gerald Posner, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Steven Ambrose, the “fickle finger of fate” will ultimately point to the Caro-Gottlieb team and place a similar asterisk over the award. It will denote precisely this disconnect, as even Wikipedia (though perpetually tunable by its administrators) seems diligent enough to include the following statement in the first paragraph of Ambrose’s page:

“There have been numerous well documented allegations of plagiarism, inaccuracies, and sloppiness in Ambrose’s writings in addition to claims that he has made about his works.”

It is highly unlikely that either of these august fellows will ever respond to my nagging. But there is some hope, given that Mr. Caro did say (though I can’t find it now, I clearly remember it) that in the last volume, “the tone will change” (whatever that means).

I’ve tried to assist them in identifying the more important missing names, events and issues, and this latest article informs us that there is still plenty of time to correct the record and endeavor to address these points.

I’m hoping that Mr. Caro will one day read this essay and let me know how things stand.

And, of course, I want to let him know that it would be my pleasure to work with him to resolve all of these issues so that future generations will have the benefit of our deliberations, as we review every one I’ve identified up until that point in time; and, just for the record, I am still compiling the list, it isn’t done yet, and probably never will be what might be called technically “complete.”

Cudos to Ed Tatro for spotting this news item!

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