The Pulitzer Prize board yesterday bestowed upon bulldog historian Robert A. Caro its 2003 biography award for "Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson."

"It's actually great," Caro said of the honor. "Master of the Senate," which also won the National Book Award, is the third of Caro's proposed four-volume account of Johnson's life. "I felt that with this book, people understood what I've been trying to do in all three books, which is not just to tell the life of one man, but to use that life to examine how political power worked in America in the second half of the 20th century."

Other Pulitzers handed out in letters, music and drama included "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides in fiction; "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" by Samantha Power in general nonfiction; "Moy Sand and Gravel" by Paul Muldoon in poetry; "On the Transmigration of Souls" by John Adams in music; "Anna in the Tropics" by Nilo Cruz in drama; and "An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943" by Rick Atkinson in history.

Atkinson, a reporter at The Washington Post, is covering the war in Iraq. During a celebration at the paper -- for Atkinson and the paper's three prizes in journalism -- he phoned in from overseas, where he is embedded with the 101st Airborne Division of the Army.

"This is so fabulous," he said to the assembled staff. "I'm hot and I'm tired and I'm filthy and I'm completely thrilled. It's a wondrous thing."

His present assignment, he said, is writing about an army that is "a continuation" of the World War II army he wrote about in the book. He is at work on the second volume of a planned trilogy on the liberation of Europe. Atkinson is also the author of "The Long Gray Line," about Vietnam, and "Crusade: The Untold Story of the Gulf War."

"I'm ready to come home whenever it's time to come home," he said.

When Atkinson heard the news, he was sitting under the stars in the desert. He asked Leonard Downie, The Post's executive editor, Does that mean I can make them give me a shower here?

The Irish-born Muldoon moved to America in 1987 and teaches at Princeton University and Oxford University. The Times Literary Supplement, published in London, described him as "the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War."

An excerpt from "Hard Drive," a poem from the prize-winning collection:

With a toe in the water

and a nose for trouble

and an eye to the future

I would drive through Derryfubble

Muldoon heard the news while he was doing some snow shoveling at his home in New Jersey. "I didn't believe it," he said. "It's always a surprise to see that anyone reads these poems at all. It's nice to think that then having read them, some of them might like them a little."

This book, he said, "is a return to Ireland."

Like Muldoon, Samantha Power also came to America from Ireland. She was a reporter at U.S. News & World Report and the Economist in the mid-1990s and later became executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. She won a National Magazine Award for a 2001 Atlantic Monthly story about genocide in Rwanda, and "A Problem From Hell" won this year's National Book Critics Circle nonfiction award.

"It's been a thrilling month," said Caro, back in his New York office after spending time at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library at the University of Texas.

"I've been trying to get papers open there for years. Finally, they opened them." This is Caro's second Pulitzer for biography. He won for "The Power Broker," his 1974 book about New York City construction superintendent Robert Moses.

Yesterday Caro was so excited -- about the fresh Johnson papers as much as the prize -- he could hardly talk. "These are documents that nobody has ever seen before!"

Born in 1960, Eugenides published his first novel, "The Virgin Suicides," in 1993. "Middlesex" is the tale of a Greek American family, starring the hermaphroditic Cal Stephanides. Eugenides, according to Publishers Weekly, "has an extraordinary sensitivity to the mores of our leafier suburbs." The author lives in Berlin.

Adams, 56, won the music prize for a work for orchestra and chorus written in commemoration of those who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Transmigration" was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and received its world premiere in September 2002 in New York, under the direction of Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel.

The composer, known for his 1987 opera "Nixon in China," put together his own text, drawn from posters of missing persons found near Ground Zero. He called the work "a musical space for reflection and remembrance, of meditation on an unanswerable question."

"My desire in writing this piece is to achieve in musical terms the same sort of feeling one gets upon entering one of those old, majestic cathedrals in France or Italy," Adams said before the premiere. "You feel you are in the presence of many souls, generations upon generations of them, and you sense their collected energy as if they were all congregated or clustered in that one spot."

This is the first time the Pulitzer panel has recognized a composer with roots in minimalism, a style of music based on the reiteration of short, elegant melodic modules.

The drama prize was something of a surprise. Cruz, a 42-year-old Cuban American playwright, won for a lyrical and little-known drama. "Anna" received its premiere last fall at a tiny playhouse in Coral Gables, Fla., the 104-seat New Theatre.

The other finalists in the category were higher-profile writers whose plays went to Broadway: Edward Albee for "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" and Richard Greenberg for "Take Me Out."

"We're still reeling from the news," said Rafael de Acha, artistic director of New Theatre, where two of Cruz's plays have had their debuts, and a third one, "Beauty of the Father," will be unveiled next season. "Being a Cuban American myself, I think his plays give voice to our stories and our sensibility without politicizing them."

Set in 1929 in Ybor City, Fla., where many Cuban tobacco workers settled after leaving their homeland, the play concerns the arrival in town of a "lector," a person who reads to the workers as they roll cigars. Cruz's plays have been produced in many regional theaters around the country, including Studio Theatre in Washington, where his "Two Sisters and a Piano," about a pair of sibling artists under house arrest in Cuba, was performed in 2000.

Each recipient gets $7,500, but the career boost is priceless.

Staff writers Peter Marks and Tim Page contributed to this report.

Robert Caro, shown last year, won for the third in his four-volume account of President Johnson's life and times.The Post's Rick Atkinson, photographed by a U.S. soldier in Iraq, won for history. John Adams was cited for his music commemorating 9/11.From left, general nonfiction winner Samantha Power; drama awardee Nilo Cruz; and fiction winner Jeffrey Eugenides.