“Robert Caro’s closet holds some of his 11 Smith Coronas, ready to be cannibalized for parts.”

From a New York Times story “Robert Caro’s Papers Find a Home”:

Robert Caro is famous for colossal biographies of colossal figures. “The Power Broker,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning life of Robert Moses, weighed in at nearly 1,300 pages. His as-yet-unfinished biography of Lyndon B. Johnson—he likes to call the volume-in-progress “the fifth of a projected three”—totals 3,444 pages and counting.

The books are already monumental. And now Mr. Caro is getting monumental treatment himself.

The New-York Historical Society has acquired Mr. Caro’s papers—some 200 linear feet of material that will be open to researchers in its library. . . .

“This is an archive that will illuminate the 20th century through two outsize figures, Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses,” she [Louise Mirrer, the president of the historical society], said. “It’s also the record of an extraordinary writer and thinker. Bob Caro is a historian whose methodology is of equal importance to the actual materials in his archive.”. . .

Michael T. Ryan, the director of the historical society’s library, recalled being surprised by the unusual number of primary-source documents tucked away in various files, boxes and even briefcases.

“We have here — possibly — an extraordinary cache of material for which there is no other copy,” he said.

And then there is everything that was cut from Mr. Caro’s already-gargantuan books, like some 300,000 words axed from “The Power Broker” by his longtime editor, Robert Gottlieb, including extensive material on figures like Jane Jacobs and Al Smith.

“All I can really think about as I go through the files is what I left out,” Mr. Caro said.

Mr. Caro’s current office, which he moved to last summer, is itself a kind of museum of a vanishing analog world, down to a closet holding some of his 11 stockpiled Smith Coronas, ready to be cannibalized for parts.

An elaborate typed outline of his book in progress is tacked to corkboards lining the walls. Mr. Caro—who writes his first drafts by hand on legal pads—pulled out a thick binder to show how he writes each sentence from the outline on a loose sheet of lined paper. Next, he lists interviews and documents that support the point, all indexed according to a complicated, idiosyncratic system. . . .

One of his rules—Mr. Caro does not use a tape recorder—is to always type up his interview notes before going to bed, so as not to forget facial expressions or other details. “He can’t seem to sit still,” reads a note atop a transcript of one of his interviews with Moses.
Also see:

Robert Caro on Writing: “Thought Takes Time. Truth Takes Time.”

Robert Caro at Work: “Come on Buzz, What Did You See?”

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