Yesterday I went for a walk after work. I work from home on Fridays, and we live near Columbia University. I crossed Broadway near the gates at the entrance to the Columbia campus and was about to walk down Broadway when I saw, standing there in front of the university gates, one of my idols: biographer Robert Caro!
In fact, just two days earlier, I’d finished reading the first volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography, The Path to Power, having been engrossed in it for the past month. The latest volume of his LBJ bio, The Passage of Power, comes out on May 1, after a ten-year wait, and I can’t wait to read it. I’d previously read volumes 2 and 3, so I wanted to read volume 1 before the new one comes out. I’ve also read Caro’s other masterpiece, The Power Broker, about Robert Moses.
And in fact, just before going for my walk — literally right before getting up from my desk to put on my shoes — I’d been reading this fascinating new Esquire profile of Mr. Caro.
And suddenly, a few minutes later, there he was a few feet away from me.
He was wearing a dark suit with a red tie, a red handkerchief in his pocket, and he was standing with a couple of other people. I had no idea what he was doing there, standing in front of the Columbia University gates, but I had to say hello.
So I went up to him and said, “I’m so sorry to bother you, but I’m a huge fan of yours.” I told him I’d just finished volume 1 and that I’d previously read volumes 2 and 3, that I’d read them in reverse order.
He couldn’t have been nicer. He asked me what my name was. He shook my hand. He introduced me to his wife, Ina Caro, who was standing next to him, and I was just as thrilled to meet her; Ina Caro is an accomplished author in her own right, and she has been Robert Caro’s sole research assistant on all of his books. Then he introduced me to his editor, Katherine Hourigan, who was standing there as well. He asked me my name again, and then he made a point to ask my last name.
It was so surreal to meet him. I wish I’d been more prepared. I wish I’d had my picture taken with him. I wish I’d had a book for him to sign. I wish I’d sounded more intelligent. I wish I’d been able to talk with him longer.
I did a Twitter search when I came home, and it turned out that he was at Columbia last night to speak at a centennial event for the Columbia Journalism School.
Caro has been working on his biography of Lyndon Johnson since 1974 — almost my entire life. It was originally going to be three volumes, but three became four, and four became five. Caro is 76 years old; he has completed all the research for his fifth (and presumably last) volume, but according to Esquire, his will states that if he dies before he finishes writing the last volume, nobody else should finish it for him. I hope he makes it.
More recent profiles of Caro on the occasion of the new book’s release, including the Esquire piece: