The Original Longread

Apr 14 2012 @ 12:55pm

by Zoë Pollock

Chris Jones profiles Robert Caro, author of behemoth biographies of Robert Moses and a five book biography of Lyndon Johnson he's been writing for 38 years:

It's not just Caro's single-mindedness that makes repeating The Years of Lyndon Johnson a modern impossibility. The world outside his office has changed in the nearly four decades since he began. Publishers might like to pretend that they're different from other manufacturers, or at least that they're farms rather than factories, but they're not. Books like Caro's don't make corporate sense anymore, if they ever did.

The fourth installment, The Passage of Power, comes out May 1. I love this anecdote from Andy Hughes, Caro's designer:

He wants them to be built to last. Unfortunately, book building is another dying art. Bindings are glued instead of stitched; most hardcovers are made from paper rather than cloth; hinges aren't as sharp as they used to be and half rounds aren't as tight. "These are just things that have been lost in the march of time," Hughes says. Today, he looks at books and sees weakness as often as he sees beauty. He sees it especially in something he calls "mousetrapping," one of our invisible modern plagues. He opens the three Caro books to demonstrate: Each stays open on his desk. Each lies flat. Hughes then finds a more recent book, and no matter how much he cracks its spine, it wants to snap shut. "It's like we're asking readers to close them," he says. The Passage of Power, Hughes says, will lie flat.