Robert Caro is this year’s winner of a National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement, given for “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.”
The 80-year-old historian, known for his epic, acclaimed biographies of former President Lyndon Johnson and municipal builder Robert Moses, was praised Wednesday by the National Book Foundation for his “exceptional work and significant impact on American literature.” Previous honorees include Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo and Ursula K. Le Guin.
“Caro’s in-depth and long term exploration of the lives of two prominent men makes a much larger contribution to American Letters than it might seem at first glance,” Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a statement. “His life’s work, and his stunning prose, teaches us to better understand political influence, American democracy, and the true power of biography.”
Caro will receive his award Nov. 16 at the annual National Book Awards ceremony and dinner benefit in Manhattan, where winners in the competitive categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature will be announced.
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A longtime New York City resident, Caro is one of the world’s most prominent historians even though he has published just five books. “The Power Broker,” his landmark biography of Moses, is standard reading for city historians and planners and has been praised by President Barack Obama, who once said he was “mesmerized” by it. Caro’s writings on Johnson, four volumes so far, are best-sellers widely read in Washington and have inspired some legislators to seek his advice.
Accepting awards has almost become routine for Caro. His resume includes two Pulitzers, a competitive National Book Award (for “Master of the Senate”), three National Book Critic Circle prizes and a National Humanities Medal, presented to him in 2010 by Obama. He won at least five awards just for his most recent Johnson book, “The Passage of Power,” published in 2012.