NEW YORK – The good news on Robert A. Caro's long-awaited next book is that he knows the final words.
The bad news is that he's known them for years and remains far from concluding his Lyndon B. Johnson series. Caro, who also wrote “The Power Broker,” has published four volumes of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” over a period of 40 years. Volume 4, “The Passage of Power,” came out in 2012.
The fifth volume is expected to cover Johnson's first full year as president, 1964, and continue through the end of his administration in 1969 and his death four years later.
“It is huge,” Caro says of the scale of the final book.
Measuring his progress is hard because he doesn't work chronologically. Two years ago, Caro spoke of writing about the year 1967, a time of growing unrest in Black communities and rising opposition to the Vietnam War. Interviewed recently to promote “Turn Every Page,” a documentary about Caro and his editor Robert Gottlieb, the author said he is now deep into a section on health care for the elderly before Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid Act in 1965.
Caro has always thoughts of his books as not so much the portrait of a man, but of political power and its effects. Taken together, the already published Johnson volumes — which began with “The Path to Power” and include “Means of Ascent” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Master of the Senate” — exceed 4,000 pages and feature extended probes into everything from filibusters to the mechanics of a stolen election.
For the yet untitled Volume 5, the 87-year-old Caro hopes to write about the Vietnam War’s impact on a Vietnamese village and still plans to travel to Vietnam, a trip that has been postponed because of the pandemic. He has already worked on a less talked about moment in the Johnson presidency, when he sent more than 20,000 troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent a feared communist takeover.
“I tell people he sent 23,000 Marines to the Dominican Republic and they say ‘What?’ No one remembers it,” Caro says.
The new documentary tells of Caro's long and complicated relationship with Gottlieb, whose other authors have included the Nobel laureates Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing. The two Bobs have worked together since the early 1970s and, after battling fiercely in the early years, have forged what Caro calls a relatively smooth editing process, a “shorthand” that enables them to “go through manuscripts much faster.”
But, he adds, when asked why the books don't come out more quickly: “You can't speed up the research."