Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb first met and worked together back when Richard Nixon was president and men first walked on the moon.
In other words, a long time ago – and yet Caro, 87, and Gottlieb, 92, continue their remarkable publishing partnership as Caro pushes to finish his fifth and final volume on President Lyndon Johnson.
Their unique relationship is the subject of an enjoyable and fascinating documentary, “Turn Every Page,” a quirky and colorful presentation that gets its title from the best research advice Caro ever received from a newspaper editor:
Leave no stone unturned when pouring over available evidence. When faced with stacks of paper, make sure you turn over every page.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Robert Caro, a Pulitzer prize-winning author best known for a biography on controversial New York urban planner Robert Moses and a sweeping series of books on Lyndon Johnson.
But Robert Gottlieb? Probably not, even though in addition to editing The New Yorker, he has edited over 700 books in senior roles at both Simon and Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf.
Caro and Gottlieb first met in the early 1970s when Caro was finishing up The Power Broker, a manuscript on Moses that exceeded one million words. Gottlieb worked with Caro to cut over 350,000 of them because they wouldn’t fit between two covers. Caro wanted to break the book into two volumes, but his new editor resisted. “I might be able to get people interested in Robert Moses once,” he told him. “I’ll never get them interested twice.”
Good chemistry between a writer and their editor is something special, and there have been many good examples, but few have lasted as long or been as successful as the Caro and Gottlieb partnership.
What can we learn about fostering strong relationships from this unique and storied pairing? Here are five things:
Expect and assume the best in the other person.
“I don’t question his motivation,” says Robert Gottlieb of Robert Caro. “My job is to help him do what he wants to do.”
We live in a skeptical and selfish age, don’t we? Culture practically teaches us to be suspicious. “If it seems too good to be true, it often is,” as the saying goes.
Gottlieb sees his role as someone tasked with assisting his client. He wants to be a help not a hindrance.
Imagine how much more fulfilling our relationships would be if we weren’t so quick to question the other person’s motive. Assume the best.
Don’t be afraid to share your own opinions.
“Publishing is making public your own enthusiasm,” Gottlieb says. Another way of putting it: It’s taking a chance. It’s taking a risk.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner, has said of his relationship with the Oracle of Omaha, “If we always agree, then one of us is redundant.”
It’s safer to stay silent, but God has given each of us gifts and sometimes that means speaking up and speaking out. If you’re not afraid to rock the boat from time to time, maybe you should give your seat to someone else who is willing to set sail.
Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb have been known to go to war over semi-colons. Caro is a fan. Gottlieb, not so much. Robert Caro says they’ve battled for days over the issue. The author will dig his heals in when he feels strongly about it.
“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail,” once said pastor Chuck Swindoll.
To be interesting, be interested.
“Every subject is interesting the deeper you get into it,” says Gottlieb. You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Boring people are bored.” That’s because they lack curiosity. They’re not inquisitive.
Robert Caro has devoted his life to asking questions. He moved to the Hill County of Texas in order to live with people Lyndon Johnson grew up with. He wanted to see the same sky and grass the president saw as a boy. By showing interest in the people, they in turn showed interest in him.
Are you genuinely interested in the people around you? Do you talk more than you listen?
Be patient. Live and appreciate the moment that is today.
Robert Caro’s thoroughness has led to his books taking between five and eight years to complete. He doesn’t rush it. Instead, he lives in the moment. On his office desk, which includes his Smith Corona Electra 210 typewriter, rests a card that reads:
“The only thing that matters is what is on this page.”
Are you brewing over what happened yesterday? Worried about what might occur tomorrow?
The Lord has given us today. Make the most of it.
It remains to be seen whether Robert Caro will finish his final book, and if so, whether Robert Gottlieb will live long enough to edit it. Yet in the meantime, the writer and editor have modeled for the rest of us how to go about accomplishing goals and deepening our relationships.
“Turn every page” is good advice for a journalist, but it’s also good advice for a Christian. Unlike some who want to decouple the Old and New Testaments, the Bible is 66 separate books that all tell one remarkable story pointing us back to Jesus. It’s the wise and fulfilled man or woman who turns every page of every book of God’s inspired Word.