#305 Robert Caro on power, poverty, ruthlessness, & obsession

Episode Summary

What I learned from reading Working by Robert Caro.

Episode Notes

What I learned from reading Working by Robert Caro. 


Listen to one of my favorite podcasts: Invest Like the Best: Sam Hinkie: Find Your People 


[3:40] You can't get very deep into Johnson's life without realizing that the central fact of his life was his relationship with his father.

[8:00] It was the hill country and his father's failures that taught him how terrible could be the consequences of a single mistake.

[8:45] Lyndon Johnson wouldn't understand. He would refuse to understand. He would threaten you, would cajole you, bribe you or charm you. He would do whatever he had to do, but he would get that vote.

[9:00] What mattered to him was winning because he knew what losing could be. What its consequences could be.

[9:50] Robert Caro books I've read: 

The Power Broker 

The Path to Power

Means of Ascent

Master of The Senate (currently reading) 

[11:00] About what I wanted to do with my life and my books (which are my life)

[11:40] I am a reflection of what I do. — Steve Jobs

[23:20] There are certain moments in your life when you suddenly understand something about yourself. I loved going through those files, making them yield up their secrets to me.

[24:10] Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamn page.

[27:50] Robert Caro snaps: No, that's not why highways get built where they get built. They get built there because Robert Moses wants them there.

[28:15] Robert Moses had power that no one understood. Power that nobody else was even thinking about.

[29:50] There are sentences that are said to you in your life that are chiseled into your memory.

[34:00] Three of the editors took me to some fancy restaurant and told me they could make me a star. Bob Gottlieb said, Well, I don't go out for lunch but we can have a sandwich at my desk and talk about your book. So of course I picked him.

[37:15] Robert Moses was a ruthless genius with savage energy.

[38:30] Ambitious people are rare, so if everyone is mixed together randomly, as they tend to be early in people's lives, then the ambitious ones won't have many ambitious peers. When you take people like this and put them together with other ambitious people, they bloom like dying plants given water. Probably most ambitious people are starved for the sort of encouragement they'd get from ambitious peers, whatever their age.

Paul Graham’s essays. (Founders #275-277)

[42:30] in a couple of sentences these two men —idols of mine — had wiped away five years of doubt.

[42:50] There is not a more mysterious craft than entrepreneurship.

[48:15] I now had a picture of Lyndon Johnson's youth, that terrible youth, that character hardening youth.

[54:00] I wasn't fully understanding what these people were telling me about the depth of Lyndon Johnson's determination, about the frantic urgency, the desperation, to get ahead, and to get ahead fast.

As if the passions, the ambitions that he brought to Washington, strong though they were, were somehow intensified by the fact that he was finally there, in the place where he had always wanted to be.

I wanted to show the contrast between what he was coming from the poverty, the insecurity —and what he was trying for.

[55:15] I wanted to make the reader see the contrast between what he was coming from and what he was trying for. Something on the way to work had excited him and thrilled him so much that he'd break into a run every morning.

[56:15] And as Lyndon Johnson came up Capitol Hill in the morning, he would be running.

Well, of course he was running—from the land of poverty to this. Everything he had ever wanted, everything he had ever hoped for, was there.


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