Robert Caro's "The Path to Pancakes: Rich Malley's Quest for Breakfast"

By 8:30 am on the morning of September 27, Rich Malley was a man fully in command of his domain (his wife having left for work some 15 minutes earlier); but he was not a man who was satisfied—far from it. Inside of him was a yearning, a yawning want so great that Ted Nathanson, his next-door-neighbor and sometime advance man, would later remark, “I never knew a stomach could growl so loud.”

But this was not just any yearning, not just any yawning want. This was a dearth only pancakes could fill. And not just any pancakes, no, not for the Patrón of Parrot Manor. As Carol Erwin, a waitress who once served him faithfully for over 45 minutes, was to observe, “He liked buckwheat pancakes.”

But this morning, there would be no trip to a restaurant; no downtown diner would see his misshapen shadow darken its threshold. This morning, if buckwheat pancakes were to be had, they would be have to be buckwheat pancakes of his own making. And true to his destiny, he set about making them as only he could make them, with a skillet and a determination so thorough, neither he nor pancakes would ever be the same. But that is a story for a future volume.

First there were the phone calls. As Nathanson was to remember, “He had me on the phone with every flour mill in a seven county area, finding out who ground the finest buckwheat flour.” And even then he was not satisfied. For after the provisioning of the buckwheat came the pursuit of the highest grade baking powder money could buy. That took another round of phone calls, another intense expenditure of legwork. But to him, it would be worth it.

Because he was hungry. But not just hungry—it would not be overstating it to say he was famished to his core, nursing a hunger so intense that “I never knew a stomach could growl so loud,” Nathanson would one day exclaim to this writer.

And then there were arrangements to be made for the syrup…

The next volume of Robert Caro's 2672 page (so far) biography of LBJ

The fourth volume in Robert Caro’s projected five volume LBJ biography (up from three, then up from four) is due to come out next month

Esquire’s Chris Jones has a great profile of Caro, the improbable history of his masterwork and his meticulous writing process. 

If you haven’t read The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1)Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2), or Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3), I heartily recommend them.

It’s hard to imagine that such a massive, slavishly researched, heavily detailed biography of ANY American president could be a riveting page-turner, much less one about a president like Johnson, who is barely a blip in our public consciousness. But riveting page-turners they are.