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The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York Paperback – July 12, 1975
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"Surely the greatest book ever written about a city." --David Halberstam
"A masterpiece of American reporting. It's more than the story of a tragic figure or the exploration of the unknown politics of our time. It's an elegantly written and enthralling work of art." --Theodore H. White
"The most absorbing, detailed, instructive, provocative book ever published about the making and raping of modern New York City and environs and the man who did it, about the hidden plumbing of New York City and State politics over the last half-century, about the force of personality and the nature of political power in a democracy. A monumental work, a political biography and political history of the first magnitude." --Eliot Fremont-Smith, New York
"One of the most exciting, un-put-downable books I have ever read. This is definitive biography, urban history, and investigative journalism. This is a study of the corruption which power exerts on those who wield it to set beside Tacitus and his emperors, Shakespeare and his kings." --Daniel Berger, Baltimore Evening Sun
"Fascinating, every oversize page of it." --Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek
"A study of municipal power that will change the way any reader of the book hereafter peruses his newspaper." --Philip Herrera, Time
"A triumph, brilliant and totally fascinating. A majestic, even Shakespearean, drama about the interplay of power and personality." --Justin Kaplan
"In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort." --Richard C. Wade, The New York Times Book Review
"The feverish hype that dominates the merchandising of arts and letters in America has so debased the language that, when a truly exceptional achievement comes along, there are no words left to praise it. Important, awesome, compelling--these no longer summon the full flourish of trumpets this book deserves. It is extraordinary on many levels and certain to endure." --William Greider, The Washington Post Book World
"Apart from the book's being so good as biography, as city history, as sheer good reading, The Power Broker is an immense public service." --Jane Jacobs
"Required reading for all those who hope to make their way in urban politics; for the reformer, the planner, the politician and even the ward heeler." --Jules L. Wagman, Cleveland Press
"An extraordinary study of the workings of power, individually, institutionally, politically, and economically in our republic." --Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal
"Caro has written one of the finest, best-researched and most analytically informative descriptions of our political and governmental processes to appear in a generation." --Nicholas Von Hoffman, The Washington Post
"Caro's achievement is staggering. The most unlikely subjects--banking, ward politics, construction, traffic management, state financing, insurance companies, labor unions, bridge building--become alive and contemporary. It is cheap at the price and too short by half. A milestone in literary and publishing history." --Donald R. Morris, The Houston Post
"Irresistible reading. It is like one of the great Russian novels, overflowing with characters and incidents that all fit into a vast mosaic of plot and counterplot. Only this is no novel. This is a college education in power corruption." --George McCue, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
From the Inside Flap
One of the most acclaimed books of our time, winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city's politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today.
In revealing how Moses did it--how he developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force--Robert Caro reveals how power works in all the cities of the United States. Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He personally conceived and completed public works costing 27 billion dollars--the greatest builder America (and probably the world) has ever known. Without ever having been elected to office, he dominated the men who were--even his most bitter enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could not control him--until he finally encountered, in Nelson Rockefeller, the only man whose power (and ruthlessness in wielding it) equalled his own.
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This was a tip from New York Magazine on "How to read 'The Power Broker'": Buy a cheap paperback version, tear it into thirds, read one third at a time. When you finish you will love this book so much that you will probably want to buy a hardcover version to have on your shelf.
Essentially, for 40+ years Robert Moses was the most powerful man in the entire state of New York. A large portion of his power was derived from his chairmanship of the Triborough Bridge Authority. Typically, a public authority shuts down after its bonds have been repaid and its construction projects have been finished. But Moses, called by Caro "the best bill drafter in Albany," set up the Authority in a way that allowed him to continually issue bonds year after year after year. And since the Constitution states that "No states shall...impair the obligations of contracts," no one could do anything about it. Triborough became a small empire for Moses...at its homebase on Randall's Island, the TBA was the supreme law of the land, and it was enforced by some 200 TBA police officers. Moses often used them to escort his big limousine around NYC and Long Island.
One big factor in Moses' power was the press. For four decades he maintained the image of a totally non-political and selfless public servant (he famously refused to take a salary for most of his positions). The sometimes-willful ignorance of the press to Moses' abuses of power is amazing to read. Caro painstakingly documents so many of them.
His genius and his impact are absolutely inimitable. Name a major bridge, parkway, expressway, thruway, park, or beach in the New York metropolitan area, Long Island, or New York State, and the MAJORITY of them will have been built by Robert Moses. This was a guy who almost never slept, who swam out into the middle of the ocean alone when he was in his 80s, who fell into absolutely horrifying bouts of rage when someone dared to disagree with him. He may have been one of the greatest abusers of power in recent history but, as Caro says, he "Got Things Done."
I loved reading about the absolute control he exercised over various New York mayors, governors, and other officials. He would routinely ignore requests to meet with mayors; if they wanted to meet with Moses, they had to come to him. Every time a new mayor was sworn in, Moses would grab the slips on which mayoral appointments were written and write his own name and position on them. The mayor would then meekly sign it, knowing that he couldn't possibly deny Moses any of those positions.
I could say so much more but the other reviewers have already covered the book's strengths. I'll end with this: Moses was one of the most fascinating politicians in the history of this country. But so many have already forgotten him. I hope people will read this book to learn not only about Moses, bu about New York, Washington, and most importantly the use of political power in this country.
There is more to this book, of course, than Robert Moses -- the man, the administrator, the builder, the self-promoter, the cold racist -- there is much in here about how New York City, and by extension, many other cities, are run. It is about power (and the lack thereof), who wields it, how, and why, and how those without are affected. Readers learn how and why such massive projects as Jones Beach and the 1964 World's Fair were created, and how Moses kept the blacks he hated out of them. It even focuses on the lack of playgrounds in Harlem (which needed them) and how even those he built there had racist design features.
There are portraits of power brokers besides Moses -- mayors like La Guardia, Wagner, and Lindsay, governors like Smith, Dewey, and Rockfeller, presidents like Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, who were all beholden to or enemies of Moses.
The only weakness in this book is that it was completed before his death -- not critical, as it was completed after Rockefeller ousted him from power, but the death of Moses would have been an appropriate ending point.
Moses's impact on New York stands -- immense ribbons of highway, jammed with cars, rapid transit systems that do NOT go where they are needed or were removed, immense housing projects that became ghastly hotbeds of crime and a permanent underclass, equally immense commercial projects that attracted only tourists and beggars, some of which (like the New York Coliseum) were ultimately torn down. We are fortunate that he never got to hack up Manhattan with his superhighways as he did Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn.
This is a book that anyone interested in cities, history, race, and the creation of our modern urban environment should do well to read and enjoy reading. It is as mammoth, textured, and richly detailed as its fascinating and highly flawed subject.