Since I bash the Times a lot, let me commend Charles McGrath for a terrific NYT Mag piece on biographer Bob Caro, who’s a hero of mine.
This kind of knowledge [about Lyndon Johnson] does not come easily or cheaply. Caro has taken so long with Johnson that his agent, Lynn Nesbit, no longer remembers how many times she has renegotiated his contract; his publishing house has had two editors in chief, and no one there worries much about his deadlines any longer. The books come along when they come along. “I’m not a charity case,” Caro pointed out to me last month when I remarked on how Knopf had stuck by him all these years. It’s true that the Johnson volumes have been glowingly reviewed (“The Path to Power” and “Means of Ascent” both won the National Book Critics Circle Award and “Master of the Senate” won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) and that each of them has been a best seller, but it’s also true that they turn up so infrequently that Caro can hardly be thought of as a brand name. “Are the books profitable?” Sonny Mehta, Knopf’s current head, who took over the Johnson project — enthusiastically — after Gottlieb’s departure in 1987, said last month. He paused for a moment. “They will be,” he answered finally, “because there is nothing like them.”
If that’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. I can’t wait for the next volume.