who was Lady Bird Johnson.
First you read the books on the subject, then you go to the big newspapers, and all the magazines—Newsweek, Life, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Star, then you go to the newspapers from the little towns. If Johnson made a campaign stop there, you want to see how it’s covered in the weekly newspaper. Then the next thing you do is the documents. There’s the Lyndon Johnson papers, but also the papers of everyone else—Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower—whom he dealt with. Or for The Power Broker, Al Smith’s papers, the Herbert Lehman papers, the Harriman papers, the La Guardia papers…. The presidency is different. There’s no hope of reading it all. You’d need several lifetimes. But you want to try to do as much as possible, because you never know what you will find. If it’s something really important, like a civil rights file, from 1964, 1965, or voting rights, you want to see everything. So I called for everything. But otherwise, you know you’re not seeing even a substantial percentage. You hope you’re seeing everything that really matters, but you always have this feeling, What’s in the rest?… Then come the interviews. You try and find everybody who is alive who dealt with Johnson in any way in this period. Some people you interview over and over. There was this Johnson speechwriter, Horace Busby. I interviewed him twenty-two times. These were the formal interviews. We also had a lot of informal telephone chats. I came to love Buzz. But none of this is enough. You have to ask yourself, Are you making the reader see the scene? And that means, Can you see the scene? You look at so many books, and it seems like all the writer cares about is getting the facts in. But the facts alone aren’t enough.
When you say that’s not “it,” what is “it”? CARO: Let’s say The Path to Power. That first volume tries to show what the country was like that Johnson came out of, why he wanted so badly to get out of it, how he got out of it, and how he got his first national power in Washington through the use of money. That’s basically the first volume—at the end he loses his first Senate race, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to come back.
Getting that boiled-down paragraph or two is terribly hard, but I have to tell you that my experience is that if you get it, the whole next seven years is easier. When you have it, it’s so comforting, because you’re typing away, and you can look over—it’s usually stuck on the wall right there, but I don’t want you to see it, actually. I put it away.
I spent a large part of these last decades trying to see Johnson. It’s a product of hundreds and hundreds of interviews….