I’d already read several of the pieces in Robert Caro’s Working but it was so good to read them again. Caro reflects deeply on his work, what makes it successful, and why truth matters and writing matters. He’s best known for his in depth writing on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, but what he’s really writing about, as he readily says, is power.

…in order to write about political power the way I wanted to write about it, I would have to write not only about the powerful but about the powerless as well—would have to write about them (and learn about their lives) thoroughly enough so that I could make the reader feel for them, empathize with them, and with what political power did for them, or to them. (loc 99)

Everything you’ve been doing is bullshit. Underlying every one of my stories was the traditional belief that you’re in a democracy and the power in a democracy comes from being elected. Yet here was a man, Robert Moses, who had never been elected to anything, and he had enough power to turn around a whole state government in one day. And he’s had this power for more than forty years, and you, Bob Caro, who are supposed to be writing about political power and explaining it, you have no idea where he got this power. (loc 440)

I was starting to glimpse, through the mists of public myth and my own ignorance, the dim outlines of something that I didn’t understand and couldn’t see clearly but that might be, in terms of political power, quite substantial indeed. (loc 579)

But these conversations with the Long Island farmers had brought home to me in a new way the fact that a change on a map—Robert Moses’ pencil going one way instead of another, not because of engineering considerations but because of calculations in which the key factor was power—had had profound consequences on the lives of men and women like those farmers whose homes were just tiny dots on Moses’ big maps. (loc 1040)

There is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power, but there is also great good. It seems to me sometimes that people have forgotten this. They’ve forgotten, for example, what Franklin Roosevelt did: how he transformed people’s lives. How he gave hope to people. Now people talk in vague terms about government programs and infrastructure, but they’ve forgotten the women of the Hill Country and how electricity changed their lives. They’ve forgotten that when Robert Moses got the Triborough Bridge built in New York, that was infrastructure. To provide enough concrete for its roadways and immense anchorages, cement factories that had been closed by the Depression had to be reopened in a dozen states; to make steel for its girders, fifty separate steel mills had to be fired up. And that one bridge created thousands of jobs: 31,000,000 man hours of work, done in twenty states, went into it. We certainly see how government can work to your detriment today, but people have forgotten what government can do for you. They’ve forgotten the potential of government, the power of government, to transform people’s lives for the better. (loc 2942)

Rhythm matters. Mood matters. Sense of place matters. All these things we talk about with novels, yet I feel that for history and biography to accomplish what they should accomplish, they have to pay as much attention to these devices as novels do. (loc 2600)

Really, my books are an examination of what power does to people. Power doesn’t always corrupt, and you can see it in the case of, for example, Al Smith or Sam Rayburn. There, power cleanses. But what power always does is reveal, because when you’re climbing, you have to conceal from people what it is you’re really willing to do, what it is you want to do. But once you get enough power, once you’re there, where you wanted to be all along, then you can see what the protagonist wanted to do all along, because now he’s doing it. (loc 2788)

The more we understand about the realities of the political process, the better informed our votes will be. And then, presumably, in some very diffuse, very inchoate way, the better our country will be. (loc 2808)