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Catching up with award-winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro

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The New York Times and a few others have dug up a few personal tidbits. Among the most repeated of late is Caro’s insistence on wearing a coat and tie to a private office he established in 1990, a 12-block walk from his home, as the Times reported. Last year, during an interview with CBS, Caro said he reports to his office in professional attire each day to trick himself into remembering that he has a job to do. His publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, doesn’t keep tabs on Caro, so Caro takes it upon himself to make sure he is productive.

For fans of the LBJ series, of course, there is another fear, one that readers of another epic biography – of Churchill, no less – know well. In 2004, William Manchester, the author of two popular and acclaimed volumes on Churchill, died. Before his death, he appointed a little-known journalist and friend to complete the final book. It was published last year and received mixed reviews.

But as Caro closes in on his 80th birthday, his readers need not despair: He remains spry. On this night, Joel Conarroe, a Davidson alum who has become a literary figure as former chair of the National Book Foundation and president emeritus of the Guggenheim Foundation, shares a few nuggets about Caro and his wife, Ina, a travel writer who also works with her husband as his research assistant.

Caro swims regularly to maintain his health and, judging by his appearance and remarks, remains invigorated by his pursuit of LBJ’s essence.

“Johnson was such a genius at using political power,” he says. “And bending Congress and all of Washington to his will. The greatest genius in the use of political power in America in the 20th century. It is endlessly fascinating watching him.”

Later, after signing books, Caro tells me in a brief interview that he doesn’t worry about finding answers and explanations to vexing historical issues.

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