National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Robert A. Caro, Winner of the 2002 NONFICTION AWARD for
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Delivered by Sonny Mehta on behalf of Robert A. Caro

Not Bob. Clearly not Bob Caro, but a foot and a half shorter, and wrong color. I'm Sonny Mehta, I work at the Knopf Publishing Group who has been Bob Caro's Publisher for these few years, and Bob was called away and for those of you who know Bob, you know of course he didn't expect to win this award. So, he left some sort of notes, which I'm reading. You have to imagine that I'm Bob Caro. Tall, white and a wonderful writer.

It is a great honor to win the National Book Award. Winning it confirms my belief that I am the luckiest of authors. Part of my luck is that I managed to have the same publishing house and the same people with me for so many years. As some of you know, the early years when I was writing my biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, were not so easy. But things became easier when I finally hooked up with Knopf in 1970. Since then Knopf has had two presidents. To research and write books as long as mine, and I do try to keep them short, requires a lot of support in a lot of ways from a publisher. And I've always been grateful for the help that my publishers have given me. Bob Gottlieb has been my editor, through this all, and what I said in the dedication to this book sums up my feeling. Bob Gottlieb, 30 years, four books, thanks. Watching with Bob and me and in all books has been Katherine Hourigan. She is so much a part of all my books, that it's difficult to find words to express my gratitude to her. Doing the ads for all my books has been Anita Bonn. I feel that I've really been quite blessed in this. Those who have come to Knopf later in the game, later in life in the game, like Paul Bogards and Gabriel Brooks, it meant a lot to me too. And through it all, I've been represented by Lynn Nesbitt since I was a young man and from the moment I met her, I always felt I had someone who would read my books, would understand my books and would help me to get them done. From all these people, I received the understanding and support which makes writing books like mine as easy as possible. When I am giving my thanks for my blessings, of course, I am always brought up short when I get to Ina Caro. For no matter how many words I have, I would never have enough to thank her.

And I will tell you someone else for whom I feel gratitude, Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States. I have never considered my biographies nearly or primarily lives of famous people, famous men. I never had the slightest interest in doing that. I consider each of my four books studies of political power, how it is acquired, how it is used and its effects upon those whom or for whom it has been used, its effects on the powerless. So I am really lucky to be following the career and trying to entangle and understand the minute devices by which Lyndon Johnson acquired and used for good and for ill, political power. It seems like every day is an education for me. People sometimes ask me, "aren't you bored spending so much time with one man"? Are you kidding? If you care about political power, every day with LBJ is an eye opening thrilling day. I once thought I knew a fair amount about political power. But it seems like every day I'm with him I learn something I never thought of. For my next book, I'm already learning about his uses of power in the presidency. Wait until you see him in action passing the great civil rights acts. I can't wait to learn about it and write about it and I'm grateful for his political genius and for the option to spend so much time observing it.

Well, Bob Caro says and I'm reading. "I try to keep this short. But if I could do things short, I wouldn't be writing 1,000 page books." Anyway, on behalf of Bob and of Ina, I thank you. I truly do not think Bob expected this honor but I know he'll be enormously touched and enormously grateful and thank you very much on his behalf.