Then Vonnegut Asked Caro, “Are We in the Same Trade?”

I’ve not yet read any of Robert Caro’s enormous Lyndon Johnson biographical series, even as he readies to release the latest volume that takes the subject up to his ascension to the presidency. I intend to read them, and the political world has a minor buzz to it because of this imminent release.

In another world, I was alerted to the fact that well before he tackled Johnson all those decades ago, Caro had written a biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. I found this out thanks to John Siracusa’s use of this book as an example a biography against which all others could be judged (in the context of lambasting the Steve Jobs biography on his podcast Hypercritical).

It was only serendipitous, then, that I stumbled upon this gem, a literary magazine piece from 1999 in which Caro is interviewed by perhaps my favorite novelist, the late Kurt Vonnegut. It’s wonderful, and I thought I’d at least share a snippet to give you a taste of its overall flow:

VONNEGUT

Let me ask you a question, Bob. I was on a panel with Joe Heller down in Florida. We were talking about the war mostly because that’s what we wanted to talk about, but I asked him at one point if he was disappointed about what the country has become. Because I am deeply disappointed. I was a prisoner of war with the Brits and the French and listened to all their plans for after the war, wanting justice and distribution of power in the world and that sort of thing, and Heller said that he was not disappointed-that he was unsurprised that the nation had turned out this way. Are you disappointed?

CARO 

I guess, in a way, I am. I think with all our riches and wealth and the fact that  we don’t have an enemy now who can threaten us, we ought to be doing a lot more now with the dispossessed of the world and the Blacks and Hispanics in our own country. I don’t think we’re doing very much compared with what we could do.

VONNEGUT 

Well, what about your basic trade of journalism…What are you, sixty, now?

CARO 

Sixty-one.

VONNEGUT 

All right, so in the past thirty years, how has journalism done?

CARO 

Yeah, I’m very disappointed in that. Aren’t you?

The interview opens with Vonnegut, a novelist, asking Caro, a biographer, whether the two of them are “in the same trade.” Fantastic. Read the whole thing.

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