"Explore a single individual deeply enough and truths about all individuals emerge." - Robert Caro
Based on the few podcasts I have listened to you're already among the best interviewers around. Tyler Cowen being the obvious king. Nonetheless, after reading this article, the first of yours I have read, you should definitely write more.
I wonder if you were inspired to read and write this by Misha Saul's series on the Caro biographies? Those articles prove, in extension of your point that every volume is worth reading, that Caro's books doesn't just chronicle Johnson but everything that happened in society and the notable figures.
For those who aren't aware they can read Saul's articles as companion pieces to this one.
Exceptional. I ordered this set last week and am even more excited to read them now. I've reads bits and pieces at various books stores that held a book or two, and was captivated. The new documentary that chronicles Caro and Gottlieb is rather interesting as well. It's called Turn Every Page, something Caro learned while working at Newsweek. He was sent to be an investigative reporter one night, something he had never done, and asked his boss for advice. His reply: "Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamned page."
Loved the post and the footnotes, I've always been a bit intrigued by robert caro since you've kept mentioning him in questions in the podcast–– now I'm definitely sold and adding the power broker and this series to the reading list! Psyched to watch how you write the rest of the plot too and hope you find what spiritually motivates you and what you "have to do" eventually :)
What a powerful piece - I love how you turn to Caro himself at the end. Subscribed.
Was looking for a great summary of Lyndon Johnson's biography. Was wondering if I should pick it up. This sealed the deal.
Wonderful review! If you like this genre of deep dives into powerful people, you would definitely enjoy Edmond Morris's biography on Theodore Roosevelt. TR comes off as less patient/plotting than LBJ, but more skilled at media relations and off the charts at personal charisma. Both shared an astonishing capability for hard work, and TR was a famously fast / photographic reader, wonder if LBJ had that too?
btw, I linked your piece in the intro here, where I wrote a little something about Caro:
Cheers 💚 🥃
For people of my generation, LBJ will always be remembered as the President who manipulated us into escalating the war in Vietnam. And his cruelty to those around him was legendary. Training someone to become like LBJ seems like a really bad choice for a mission.
This is a great reflection on these books. Thank you!
Hi Dwarkesh, really interesting lessons that you drew from these books, especially your take on LBJ's presidency as a rare historical counterfactual! I recently came across an article that uses the JFK assassination / LBJ's surprise presidency as a natural experiment to measure the effect of switching to a Southern president (and the honour culture they were raised in) on the likelihood of engaging in armed conflict (see below), might be of interest to you.
I also recently finished the Johnson books, you're really inspiring me to write about them too, thanks for that!
Great post. You know who came to my mind when I read this I thought he fits this perfectly? Tom Marvolo Riddle.
"An interesting thing I’ve noticed in the biographies of great men is that their ancestry includes people of great status and power. But for tragic and random reasons, their family has fallen into poverty and humiliation by the time they are born. So there ends up being this conflict between the station they feel entitled to because of their aristocratic heritage, and the demeaning and conspicuous scarcity they have to face growing up. And the ambition of these men seems to be in large part motivated by the need to resolve this incongruity."
Great piece. I would read an epic Caro biography!
Best piece of writing I have read in a while :)
little typo here:
“would explain precisely why the bill was so important and how much he nxeeded the senator’s support.”
I suspect you may have seen it, but on Caro, I recommend this documentary about him and his editor Robert Gottlieb: