Power Brokers


Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez once observed that in the course of a lifetime–and in as many books as it takes –all writers are really working on a single, solitary book. In the case of Robert Caro, that book is about power. In 1974 Caro published The Power Broker, the story of Robert Moses, the man who bulldozed his way through the neighborhoods of New York and remade the city in his own image–and in homage to the almighty automobile–just because he could. The book is a masterpiece and deserves to be read over and over again, as we don’t seem to be running out of ways to destroy the fabric of vibrant cities through greed, ambition, and unlimited power.

Today, of course, Caro is far better known for his “seemingly endless recreation of Lyndon Johnson’s life,” to borrow a phrase from contributing writer Bob Sherrill. We lead off our Summer Books Issue with Sherrill’s review of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, the 1,167-page third volume of Caro’s biography. And since this summer marks the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s gluttonous if not greedy death, we follow with “Excavating King Tex,” Gaspar González’s review of Elvis in Texas, by Lori Torrance with Stanley Oberst–along with a brief but revealing excerpt from the TO archives. Austin artist Melissa Grimes provided the cover illustration, uniting the twentieth century’s most famous Texan with the King of Rock and Roll. Grimes has taught illustration and design at the University of Texas, and currently teaches at Southwest Texas State College (which, as everyone knows, is LBJ’s alma mater.) Her work has appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and The Washington Post, among many other publications. This is her first appearance in the Observer. (And because truth is always stranger than fiction, the back cover art comes to us courtesy of the National Security Archive, the wonderful non-profit research institute, library, and archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. While much of the Archive’s work is devoted to uncovering abuses of power in the area of U.S. foreign policy, their website also includes the almost-too-weird-to-be-true “Nixon Meets Elvis” collection of photos and documents.)

We’ve added something new to this issue’s roster of fine reviews of current fiction and non-fiction with “Read Any Good Books Lately?,” Emily De-Prang’s collection of interviews with Texas writers and artists–all of whom have appeared in the Observer at one time or another–to find out what they’re reading and recommending this summer. Finally, we close this issue with an Afterword from Mexico, “Café con Aroma de García Márquez,” a fitting reminder that even in times of unbridled greed and profound disillusionment, there remains the power of a good book, and an honest author, to balance arrogance with admiration, and cynicism with respect. –BB