NEW YORK — Robert Caro's next book isn't his fifth and final volume on Lyndon Johnson or like anything he has done before.
"Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing," to be published by Alfred A. Knopf in April, combines personal reflections and professional guidance as Caro looks back on his singular history as a writer and reporter. The book includes previous lectures and interviews, but also new material. In the introduction, the 83-year-old Caro writes that the 240-page "Working" is not a "full-length memoir," which he still hopes to write, but a more informal gathering of "thoughts" and "experiences" behind such prize-winning books as his Johnson biography "Master of the Senate" and his classic book on municipal builder Robert Moses, "The Power Broker."
"Here we have ... some scattered, almost random glimpses of a few encounters I've had while doing the research on the Moses and Johnson books, encounters both with documents and with witnesses," he writes. "It includes also a few things I've learned or discovered, or think I've learned or discovered, about the writing of biography and indeed nonfiction in general which I'd like to share or pass along."
Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards said this week that Caro had been thinking about the book for a long time and that it "opens a window" into his career.
Caro does have disappointing news for those waiting for the next Johnson book: The author remains "several years" from completion. The fourth Johnson biography, "The Passage of Power," came out in 2012, and ended in the initial months of Johnson's presidency, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The fifth book is expected to cover the rest of his time in the White House, which he left in 1969, and continue to his death four years later.
Caro began writing about Johnson in the mid-1970s and over the decades has built a large and obsessive following, somehow keeping readers in suspense as if he were writing installments for a novel. His Johnson biographies, which also include "Means of Ascent" and "The Path to Power," each run several hundred pages or more and have contained extensive sections on everything from rural electrification to the passing of a Senate bill. The books have brought Caro the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize and made him among the world's most famous and influential historians.
In his introduction to "Working," Caro raises an obvious question.
"Why am I publishing these random recollections toward a memoir while I'm still working on the last volume of the Johnson biography, when I haven't finished it, while I'm still — at the age of 83 — several years from finishing it?" he writes. "The answer is, I'm afraid, quite obvious, and if I forget it for a few days, I am frequently reminded of it, by journalists who, in writing about me and my hopes of finishing, often express their doubts of that happening in a sarcastic phrase: 'Do the math.'
"Well, I can do that math. I am quite aware that I may never get to write the memoir, although I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided that, just in case, I'd put some of them down on paper now."