November 21, 2002 01:55 PM

Heavyweight historian Robert A. Caro may finally be getting the respect he deserves. After twice failing to advance past the nomination stage, the writer took home a National Book Award for nonfiction on Wednesday night for “Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” the third volume in his biography of the former president.

Caro had been nominated previously for “The Power Broker,” a 1974 biography of Robert Moses, and for the first volume of his Johnson biography, 1982’s “The Path to Power,” the New York Times reports. Unfortunately, the paper notes, Caro had to leave the New York awards ceremony early after his wife, Ina, became ill during dinner.

Three was also a magic number for Julia Glass, whose first novel, “Three Junes,” took the fiction award in a field that excluded many of the year’s hottest books — among them Donna Tartt’s “Little Friend,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s much-praised “Everything Is Illuminated” and Alice Sebold’s “Lovely Bones.”

Steve Martin, who hosted the evening, noted the “relatively obscure” list, according to the Times.

“I am so pleased to see Robert Caro was nominated,” he said. “It brings to two the total number of writers I’ve actually heard of.”

Presumably he won’t have such problems when he once again hosts the Oscars ceremony this spring.

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