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Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City Hardcover – July 28, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former Boston Globe reporter Flint recounts how activist and writer Jane Jacobs stopped the seemingly unstoppable master builder Robert Moses. Beginning in the 1930s, Moses consolidated his enormous power through the administrations of various mayors and governors, revamping the city parks network and constructing a mind-boggling array of projects including bridges, highways, Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center and 10 giant public swimming pools. Although highly skilled at crushing opponents, Moses was eventually outmaneuvered in the 1950s and '60s by Jacobs, whose landmark The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a war cry against urban renewal projects that destroyed existing neighborhoods. Jacobs derailed Moses's plans to run two highways through lower Manhattan (one in what would become trendy SoHo). But, says Flint (This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America), who is now at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Moses's tarnished reputation has been undergoing rehabilitation recently as cities realize the value of reliable infrastructure. Lucid and articulate, Flint's account will appeal more to urban planners, policy wonks and community organizers than the general reader. Photos. (July 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Wrestling with Moses is an epic tale filled with nuanced lessons. Flint is passionate in supporting Jacobs’s once radical but now commonly shared views, yet he deftly leaves room for Moses. This is an indispensable read for anyone interested in the shaping of cities.”—Alex Krieger, professor of urban design, Harvard University

“In this gripping and inspiring story of one woman who galvanized her community against powerful, destructive forces, Anthony Flint gets to the heart of what makes neighborhoods–and cities–thrive.”—Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?

“Jane Jacobs, the crownless queen of cities, defended New York against the assault that would have destroyed its pattern of the daily life. Wrestling with Moses is a masterly tale of how her mandate endures.”—Jane Holtz Kay, architecture critic for The Nation and author of Asphalt Nation

“Anthony Flint has written a riveting account of a struggle between opposites that forever redefined the American city. With no formal training in urban planning, Jane Jacobs had the audacity to take on Robert Moses and the passion to save old New York from the wrecking ball.”—James L. Swanson, Edgar Award—winning author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer

“Beautifully written, Wrestling with Moses is a step back in time to the bohemia of Greenwich Village in the 1960s, when Bob Dylan’s music filled the streets and revolution was in the air. As a woman standing up to power, Jane Jacobs blazed a trail. This is a remarkable book.”—Brad Matsen, author of Titanic’s Last Secrets

“Anthony Flint has not only captured the life and times of the remarkable Jane Jacobs but, more important, he has delineated the amazing cast of characters–politicians, design professionals, neighbors, and citizens–that populated her life and her city. Wrestling with Moses will soon become classic, essential reading for anyone concerned with cities, past, present, and future.”—Eugenie L. Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education, University of Pennsylvania

“Reporter Flint offers a fascinating history of the two combatants as well as an architectural history of New York City.”—Booklist

Urbanist and Activist
Download a list of five little-known facts about Jane Jacobs, the subject of Anthony Flint's Wrestling with Moses [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066742
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anthony Flint is author of "Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Architect of Tomorrow," a narrative nonfiction account of the father of modern architecture, published by New Harvest / Amazon Publishing http://www.apub.com/. He is also author of "Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City" (Random House 2009) and "This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America" (Johns Hopkins, 2006), and co-editor of "Smart Growth Policies: An Evaluation of Programs and Outcomes" (Lincoln Institute, 2009). A veteran journalist, primarily at The Boston Globe, he writes about architecture, urban planning and sustainability. He is a regular contributor to CityLab http://www.citylab.com/authors/anthony-flint/, part of The Atlantic magazine, as well as The Boston Globe, The New Republic, GlobalPost, Next City, Planning magazine, Planetizen, Citiwire, Architecture Boston, and many other publications; author of the blogs At Lincoln House at www.lincolninst.edu, This Land at Boston.com, and Developing Stories at the author's website www.anthonyflint.net. Currently a fellow and director of public affairs at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (www.lincolninst.edu), a think-tank in Cambridge, Mass., he served as a policy advisor in the Office for Commonwealth Development, the Massachusetts state agency coordinating growth policy, and has been a fellow at The Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center and The American Library in Paris, and a visiting scholar and Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. He is curator and speaker at TEDxBeaconStreet and TEDxTampaBay. On Twitter @anthonyflint and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/anthonyflint.author. "Wrestling with Moses" won a Christopher Award in 2010.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Wrestling With Moses" is the true story of how a small group of neighbors challenged, and stopped, rampaging development in New York City, led by Robert Moses. Jane Jacobs formed her ideas for her brilliant "Death and Life of Great American Cities" in the struggles to save Washington Square Park, and many neighborhoods, countering Moses's approach of total demoition and replacement by roads and instant slum housing projects. It is hard today to comprehend how Moses held so much power, staying in charge through five mayors, but Jane Jacobs and her neighbors offer lessons for taking on today's stone-wall bureaucracies. Anthony Flint clearly likes the late Jane Jacobs, but gives Moses his full due. A good read for anyone interested in politics, urban studies, or involved in fighting wrong-headed development (like the proposed I-10 Bypass in my rural Arizona neighborhood).
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Format: Hardcover
According to the urbanist and civic activist Jane Jacobs, author of the modern classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," a city is made great by the diversity of its neighborhoods, which are in themselves the organic growth and interactions of buildings, streets, and people: cities are not planned, but grown and nurtured by the people who live in them. That's the completely opposite approach of the master builder Robert Moses, who saw New York City as wild, sprawling, and restless, and which needed to be tamed, structured, and controlled by the sheer power of his will and imagination. It is the epic struggle between these unlikely enemies -- one a fiercely ambitious Yale graduate who controlled most of the city's construction and a soft-spoken self-educated mother of three -- that the former Boston Globe architecture correspondent Anthony Flint chronicles in "Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City."

In the epilogue Mr. Flint writes that Jane Jacobs offered help and information to a young Newsday reporter by the name of Robert Caro while he was researching his epic "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York." The book was much too long, and Robert Caro had to cut out the chapter on Jane Jacobs. Mr. Caro was writing a book about Robert Moses, and there is little reason to suspect that, so busy with his epic battles with American President Franklin Roosevelt and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as well as overseeing his vast empire that could at any time be responsible for over two thousand construction projects, Mr. Moses paid any attention to a committed but ultimately powerless urban activist by the name of Jane Jacobs.
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Format: Paperback
Surprisingly shallow treatment of the two dynamic leaders butting heads over differing visions. The author manages to present a richly dramatic story in a way that robs it of drama and personality. 'Thin' may be the best descriptor for this book - anyone expecting an in-depth understanding of either these people or these times should be made aware that this book will tell you the basic story, but leave you hungry for more. The author tries to rise to the challenge - but he has not spent the time or the energy to write anything definitive. Read Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses to encounter the real deal.

Special mention should be made of the poor editing - practically identical sentences in consecutive paragraphs was one that made me wince. But a strong editor who sent the author back better comments might have improved this book considerably.

All that said, I did manage to finish it - Jane Jacobs is an interesting figure, and this is the first attempt at her biography I had read. But, of course, you would do better just to read her books.
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Format: Hardcover
Anthony Flint effectively captures the story of Jane Jacobs rise to a civic activist and intellectual leader. Readers learn how Jane Jacobs developed her interest in livable cities and then how she fought the legendary Robert Moses to keep a part of Manhattan liveable. The pace is crisp, and the personalities come through the page. We now have context around the battle to save Greenwich Village. One striking sidenote is the reference to Saul Alinsky, a champion of community organization in Chicago who served as an inspiration for Jacobs' community action. Just reminds us that people can make a difference, even if they aren't powerful and rich.
An Inspriational Read... and its all true.
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Format: Hardcover
Quick Summary: The ultimate battle of good vs. evil set in activist scenery of 1960s and 1970s New York City. Flint describes the clash of two very divergent approaches to urban spaces. Flint provides a more balanced portrayal of both Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs showing how their visions unfolded in the cityscape of New York.

In Wrestling with Moses, Flint provides a dramatic account of the stand-off between the much revered Jane Jacobs and the oft vilified Robert Moses during a period when slum clearance and urban renewal dominated the field of planning as a means or urban improvement. Moses, hell-bent on leaving a lasting legacy on New York City accumulated unprecedented power through incestuous wrangling of bureaucracy and absolute mastery of the system. Jacobs, an unlikely writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania sought to protect urban areas from unnecessary intervention in order to allow the orchestra of city life to play out in peace.

While this story has been retold many times in countless public meetings around the country as a testament to the power of activism, Flint provides a remarkable amount of depth in his vivid account of the battle between Jacobs and Moses. Flint speaks of Jacobs's early life and how she molded herself into one of the country's most renowned critics of architecture and urban planning. Similarly, he tells of the near fanaticism with which Moses engaged his many titles, all of which gave him varying degrees of influence over New York's infrastructure.

Flint does an excellent job of providing a sense of balance in a series of events where most accounts depict a clear battle of good versus evil. Although Jacobs is certainly the hero of the story, Flint has no qualms with telling of some of her more questionable techniques.
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