The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

( 20 )

Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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 

Philip Herrera
A study of municipal power that will change the way any reader of the book hereafter peruses his newspaper. —Time
Daniel Berger
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. —Baltimore Evening Sun
Richard C. Wade
In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort. —The New York Times Book Review
Washington Post
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.
Eliot Fremont-Smith
The most absorbing, detailed, instructive, provacative 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. --New York Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394720241
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/1975
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 1344
  • Sales rank: 1,300
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.88 (d)

Meet the Author

For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and has also won virtually every other major literary honor, including the National Book Award, the Gold Medal in Biogra- phy from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.

Caro’s first book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, every- where acclaimed as a modern classic, was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century. It is, according to David Halberstam, “Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.” And The New York Times Book Review said: “In the future, the scholar who writes the history of American cities in the twentieth century will doubtless begin with this extraordinary effort.”

The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as “proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are— let it be said flat out—at the summit of American historical writing.” Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, “brilliant. No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born.” And the London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as “a masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.”

“Caro has a unique place among American political biographers,” according to The Boston Globe. “He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured.” And Nicholas von Hoffman wrote: “Caro has changed the art of political biography.”

Caro graduated from Princeton University and later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in New York City with his wife, Ina, an historian and writer

Biography

"I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," Robert A. Caro once told Kurt Vonnegut, who interviewed him for Hampton Shorts. What Caro wanted to do instead "was to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times -- particularly political power."

As an idealistic reporter for Newsday on Long Island, the young Robert Caro thought he understood how political power worked. He had written several prize-winning investigative pieces, including a series denouncing a bridge project proposed by public-works developer Robert Moses. When Caro's editor sent him to Albany to lobby against the bridge, he met with legislators and explained why the project was a terrible idea. The legislators agreed with him -- until Moses made his own trip to Albany and changed their minds.

"I remember driving back home that night and thinking that it was really important that we understand this kind of political power, and that if I explained it right -- how Robert Moses got it and what was its nature, and how he used it -- I would be explaining the essential nature of power," Caro told Vonnegut.

Caro left his job at Newsday to write a biography of Moses, a project he estimated would take one year. It took seven. During that time, Caro scraped by on a Carnegie Fellowship and the advance from his publisher -- an amount so small that he and his wife were forced to sell their house to make ends meet. But Caro persevered, constructing his story of back-room politics from scores of interviews and drawers full of old carbon copies. When his editor at Simon & Schuster left, Caro was free to seek a new editor, and a new publisher. Robert Gottlieb at Knopf shepherded The Power Broker into print in 1974. It would eventually be chosen by Modern Library as one of the best 100 books of the 20th century.

Caro then began work on his magnum opus, a projected four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, spending years not only on the research trail but in the Texas hill country where Johnson grew up. The Path to Power, volume one of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, was published in 1982 to thunderous critical acclaim. Means of Ascent appeared in 1990, followed by Master of the Senate in 2002. Each successive volume has sent critics scurrying for new superlatives to describe Caro's "grand and absorbing saga" (Ron Chernow). "[Master of the Senate] reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does," Anthony Lewis wrote in The New York Times Book Review.

Among Caro's fans are a number of politicians, including former Senate majority leader Thomas Daschle. "I think the thing you learn from reading that magnificent book is that every day, this body makes history," he told Roll Call after reading Master of the Senate. Even British politicians are hooked: one member of Parliament considered sending a note urging the author to speed up publication.

But time is an essential ingredient of Caro's work, whether he's wheedling an interview out of Johnson's cardiologist or writing and rewriting his chapters in longhand before banging out the final text on an old Smith-Corona. And he has no intention of expanding his research team of one: his wife, Ina. Readers eager for the final installment of the Johnson saga will simply have to follow Caro's example, and be patient.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 30, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Princeton University, 1957; Nieman Fellow at Harvard University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Introduction
 

 
Wait Until the Evening

 
“One must wait until the evening
To see how splendid the day has been.”
—SOPHOCLES
 

As THE CAPTAIN  of the Yale swimming team stood beside the pool, still dripping after his laps, and listened to Bob Moses, the team's second-best freestyler, he didn't know what shocked him more—the suggestion or the fact that it was Moses who was making it.
 
Ed Richards knew that Moses was brilliant—even "Five A" Johnson, who regularly received the top grade in every course he took each term, said that Moses could have stood first in the Class of 1909 if he hadn't spent so much time reading books that had nothing to do with his assignments—but the quality that had most impressed Richards and the rest of '09 was his idealism. The poems that the olive-skinned, big-eyed Jew from New York wrote for the Yale literary magazines, sitting up late at night, his bedroom door closed against the noise from the horseplay in the dormitory, were about Beauty and Truth. When the bull sessions got around, as they did so often, now that the Class was in its senior year, to the subject of careers, Moses was always talking—quite movingly, too—about dedicating his life to public service, to helping the lower classes. And just the other evening, in the midst of a desultory discussion about which fraternity's nominee should be elected class treasurer, Moses had jumped to his feet and argued so earnestly that class officers should be chosen on merit rather than fraternity affiliation, that the criterion shouldn't be who a man's friends were but what he could do, that Johnson had said to Richards afterwards, "I feel as if I've had an awakening tonight." And now, Richards realized, this same Bob Moses was suggesting that they get money for the swimming team by deliberately misleading Og Reid.
 
Ogden Mills Reid was the best thing that had ever happened to swimming at Yale. Since the legendary Walter Camp, athletic director as well as football coach, was hoarding the football receipts for a new stadium, there  was no money to replace the dank, low-ceilinged pool, which wasn't even the right length for intercollegiate swimming events. There was no allocation from the university for travel expenses or even for a coach. But Reid, who had been Yale's first great swimmer, not only paid the team's expenses but, week after week, traveled up to New Haven from New York to do the coaching himself. This year, after a long fight, Moses had succeeded in organizing the wrestling, fencing, hockey, basketball and swimming teams into a "Minor Sports Association" which would conduct a general fund-raising effort and divide the money among the teams, in the hope that the existence of such a formal organization would coax new contributions from alumni. The theory was good, Richards had thought at the time, but there was one hitch: any money contributed specifically to one of the teams also had to go into the general fund. Richards doubted that Reid, who was interested only in swimming, would want to contribute to a general fund and he wondered if the swimmers might not end up with even less money than before. But Moses had seemed to have no fears on that score. And now, standing beside the pool, Richards was beginning to understand why. Moses, dressed in suit, vest and a high collar that was wilting in the dampness, had just announced that he was skipping practice to go to New York and see Reid, and when Richards had expressed his doubts that the alumnus would contribute, Moses had smiled and said, "Oh, that's all right. I just won't tell him it's going to an association. He'll think it's the regular contribution to the swimming team."
 
Now Richards said slowly, "I think that's a little bit tricky, Bob. I think that's a little bit smooth. I don't like that at all."
 
With astonishing rapidity, the face over the high collar turned pale, almost white. Moses' fists came up for a moment before he lowered them. "Well, you've got nothing to say about it," he said.
 
"Yes, I do," Richards said. "I'm the captain. I'm responsible. And I'm telling you not to do it."
 
"Well, I'm going to do it anyway," Moses said.
 
"If you do," Richards said, "I'll go to Og and tell him that the money isn't going where he thinks it is."
 
Moses' voice suddenly dropped. His tone was threatening. "If you don't let me do it," he said, "I'm going to resign from the team."
 
He thought he was bluffing me, Richards would recall later. He thought I wouldn't let him resign. "Well, Bob," Richards said, "your resignation is accepted."
 
Bob Moses turned and walked out of the pool. He never swam for Yale again.
 
 
 
Forty-five years later, a new mayor of New York was being sworn in at City Hall. Under huge cut-glass chandeliers Robert F. Wagner, Jr., took the oath of office and then, before hundreds of spectators, personally administered the oath, and handed the coveted official appointment blanks, to his top appointees.
 
But to a handful of the spectators, the real significance of the ceremony  was in an oath not given. When Robert Moses came forward, Wagner swore him in as City Park Commissioner and as City Construction Coordinator—and then, with Moses still waiting expectantly, stopped and beckoned forward the next appointee.
 
To those spectators, Wagner's gesture signaled triumph. They were representatives of the so-called "Good Government" organizations of the city: the Citizens Union, the City Club, liberal elements of the labor movement. They had long chafed at the power that Moses had held under previous mayors as Park Commissioner, Construction Coordinator and  member of the City Planning Commission. They had determined to try to curb his sway under Wagner and they had decided to make the test of strength the Planning Commission membership. This, they had decided after long analysis and debate, was Moses' weak point: As Park Commissioner and Construction Coordinator he proposed public works projects, and the City Charter had surely never intended that an officeholder who proposed projects should sit on the Planning Commission, whose function was to pass on the merits of those projects. For nine weeks, ever since Wagner's election, they had been pressing him not to reappoint Moses to the commission. Although Wagner had told them he agreed fully with their views and had even hinted that, on Inauguration Day, there would be only two jobs waiting for Moses, they had been far from sure that he meant it. But now they realized that Wagner had in fact not given Moses the third oath—and the Planning Commission job. And, looking at Moses, they could see he realized it, too. His face, normally swarthy, was pale with rage.
 
The more observant among these spectators, however, noticed that after the ceremonies Moses followed Wagner into his inner office. They knew all too well what he would be saying to the new mayor; he had said it often enough, publicly and privately, orally and in writing, to Wagner's predecessors, Vincent R. Impellitteri and William O'Dwyer, and, even earlier, to the great La Guardia. "He's threatening to resign," they whispered to one another.
 
They were right. Behind the closed doors of the inner office, Moses was putting it to Wagner straight: If he didn't get the third post, he would quit the other two. And he'd do it right now. Wagner tried frantically to stall. The Planning Commission oath? The Mayor said. There must have been an oversight. Some clerk must have forgotten to fill out the appointment blank. Nothing to worry about. He'd see to it in a few days. Moses walked out of the Mayor's office and into the little room down the hall where a deputy mayor and his assistant were filing the appointment blanks. Snatching an unused blank off a sheaf on a table, he sat down at the table and filled it out himself. Then he walked back to Wagner's office and, without a word, laid the paper on the Mayor's desk.
 
Without a word, the Mayor pulled the paper toward him and signed it.
 
 
 
Robert Moses possessed at the time of his confrontation with Ed Richards an imagination that leaped unhesitatingly at problems insoluble to other men—the problem of financing minor sports had been tormenting Yale  deans for two decades—and that, seemingly in 4he very moment of the leap, conceived of solutions. He possessed an iron will that put behind his solutions and dreams a determination to let nothing stand in their way—to form the Minor Sports Association he, only an undergraduate, had faced up to, and had finally faced down, Walter Camp, who was implacably opposed to its formation. And he possessed an arrogance which made him conceive himself so indispensable that, in his view, his resignation was the most awful threat he could think of.
 
Robert Moses possessed the same qualities during his confrontation with Robert Wagner. But by then he also possessed something more. He possessed power.
 
Power is the backdrop against which both confrontation scenes should be played. For power was the reason for the contrast in their denouements.
 
The whole life of Robert Moses, in fact, has been a drama of the interplay of power and personality. For a time, standing between it and him was an interceding force, the passionate idealism he had expressed in the Yale bull sessions. Dedicating his life to public service, he remained, during the first years of that service, the idealist of those bull sessions, an idealist possessed, moreover, of a vision of such breadth that he was soon dreaming dreams of public works on a scale that would dwarf any yet built in the cities of America. He wandered tirelessly around New York, and a woman who occasionally wandered with him said he was "burning up with ideas, just burning up with them," ideas for great highways and parks circling the city's waterfront and for more modest projects that he thought would also improve the quality of life for the city's people—little shelters, for instance, in Central Park so that mothers could change their babies' diapers without having to go all the way home. And when he argued for his ideas before the Good Government organization for which he worked and before the Board of Estimate, he was very careful always to have his facts ready, never to exaggerate them and always to draw from them logical conclusions, for he believed that Truth and Logic would prevail. When hexlecided to specialize, the area he chose—civil service reorganization—was one based on the same principle with which he had "awakened" "Five A" Johnson, the principle that jobs should be given and promotions based on merit rather than patronage. And he dedicated himself to that principle with the devotion of the acolyte. Brought into the administration of reforming Mayor John Purroy Mitchel in 1914, Moses devised, in a year of unremitting labor, a system that made every aspect of a city employee's performance—including facets of his personality—subject to a numerical grade. And for three additional years he fought for adoption of his system, battling a Board of Estimate dominated by one of the most corrupt political machines the United States had ever known, speaking night after night—a tall, very slim, very handsome young man with deep, burning eyes, dressed, often and appropriately, in a white suit, clutching a bulging briefcase and introduced to audiences as "Dr. Moses" in recognition of his Ph.D.—into hails of abuse from furious municipal employees who owed their jobs not to merit but to Tammany Hall, and observers said that the viciousness of the jeering crowds seemed to make no impression on him, so deeply did he believe that if only they could be made to understand how good his system was, they would surely support it. In those pre-World War I years of optimism, of reform, of idealism, Robert Moses was the optimist of optimists, the reformer of reformers, the idealist of idealists.
 
So great a nuisance did he make of himself that in 1918 Tammany Hall decided it had to crush him. It did so with efficiency. At the age of thirty, with the grading papers for his system being used as scrap paper, the Central Park shelters and great highways unbuilt, Robert Moses, Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, honors man at Oxford, lover of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, was out of work and, with a wife and two small daughters to support, was standing on a line in the Cleveland, Ohio, City Hall, applying for a minor municipal job—a job which, incidentally, he didn't get.
 
When the curtain rose on the next act of Moses' life, idealism was gone from the stage. In its place was an understanding that ideas—dreams—were useless without power to transform them into reality. Moses spent the rest of his life amassing power, bringing to the task imagination, iron will and determination. And he was successful. The oath that was administered to Robert Wagner in City Hall on January 1, 1954, should have given Wagner supreme power in New York. That was the theory. In democratic America,supposedly, ultimate power rests in the voters, and the man for whom a majority of them cast their votes is the repository of that power. But Wagner knew better. The spectators may have thought that he had a choice in dealing with Moses. He knew that he did not. Why, when Moses pushed the appointment blank across his desk, did the Mayor say not a word? Possibly because there was nothing to say. Power had spoken.
 
 
 
With his power, for twenty years prior to the day he strode out of City Hall in triumph (and for an additional fourteen years thereafter), Robert Moses shaped a city and its sprawling suburbs—and, to an extent that would have astonished analysts of urban trends had they measured the implications of his decades of handiwork, influenced the destiny of all the cities of twentieth century America.
 
The city in which the shaping by his hand is most evident is New York, Titan of cities, colossal synthesis of urban hope and urban despair. It had become a cliche by the mid-twentieth century to say that New York was "ungovernable," and this meant, since the powers of government in the city had largely devolved on its mayor, that no mayor could govern it, could hope to do more than merely stay afloat in the maelstrom that had engulfed the vast metropolis. In such a context, the cliche was valid. No mayor shaped New York; no mayor—not even La Guardia—left upon its roiling surface more than the faintest of lasting imprints.
 
But Robert Moses shaped New York.
 
Physically, any map of the city proves it. The very shoreline of metropolis was different before Robert Moses came to power. He rammed bulkheads of steel deep into the muck beneath rivers and harbors and crammed into the space between bulkheads and shore immensities of earth and stone, shale and cement, that hardened into fifteen thousand acres of new land and thus altered the physical boundaries of the city.
 
Standing out from the map's delicate tracery of gridirons representing streets are heavy lines, lines girdling the city or slashing across its expanses. These lines denote the major roads on which automobiles and trucks move, roads whose very location, moreover, does as much as any single factor to determine where and how a city's people live and work. With a single exception, the East River Drive, Robert Moses built every one of those roads. He built the Major Deegan Expressway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Sheridan Expressway and the Bruckner Expressway. He built the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, the Whitestone Expressway, the Clearview Expressway and the Throgs Neck Expressway. He built the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Nassau Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway and the Long Island Expressway. He built the Harlem River Drive and the West Side Highway.
 
Only one borough of New York City—the Bronx—is on the mainland of the United States, and bridges link the island boroughs that form metropolis. Since 1931, seven such bridges were built, immense structures, some of them anchored by towers as tall as seventy-story buildings, supported by cables made up of enough wire to drop a noose around the earth. Those bridges are the Triborough, the Verrazano, the Throgs Neck, the Marine, the Henry Hudson, the Cross Bay and the Bronx-Whitestone. Robert Moses built every one of those bridges.
 
Scattered throughout New York stand clusters of tall apartment houses built under urban renewal programs and bearing color, splashed on terraces and finials, that in the twentieth-century American cityscape marks them as luxury dwellings. Alongside some of these clusters stand college lecture halls and dormitories. Alongside one stand five immense dingy white expanses of travertine that are Lincoln Center, the world's most famous, costly and imposing cultural complex. Alongside another stands the New York Coliseum, the glowering exhibition tower whose name reveals Moses' preoccupation with achieving an immortality like that conferred on the Caesars of Rome (feeling later that he could make the comparison even more exact, he built Shea Stadium, remarking when it was completed, "When the Emperor Titus opened the Colosseum in 80 A.D. he could have felt no happier"). Once the sites of the clusters contained other buildings: factories, stores, tenements that had stood for a century, sturdy, still serviceable apartment houses. Robert Moses decided that these buildings would be torn down and it was Robert Moses who decided that the lecture halls and the dormitories and the cultural  center—and new apartment houses—would be erected in their place.
 
The eastern edge of Manhattan Island, heart of metropolis, was completely altered between 1945 and 1958. Northward from the bulge of Corlears Hook looms a long line of apartment houses devoid of splashes of color, hulking buildings, utilitarian, drab, unadorned, not block after block of them but mile after mile, appearing from across the East River like an endless wall of dull brick against the sky. Almost all of them—ninety-five looming over the river in the first two miles north of Corlears Hook—are public  housing. They—and hundreds of similar structures huddled alongside the expressways or set in rows beside the Rockaway surf—contain 148,000 apartments and 555,000 tenants, a population that is in itself a city bigger than Minneapolis. These buildings were constructed by the New York City Housing Authority, 1,082 of them between 1945 and 1958. Robert Moses was never a member of the Housing Authority and his relationship with it was only hinted at in the press. But between 1945 and 1958 no site for public housing was selected and no brick of a public housing project laid without his approval.

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Essential New York History

    The Power Broker is a must-read for anyone interested in New York City history. While I was reading it, I carried the book everywhere so I could read it every chance I could. Robert Moses was a fascinating person. He had so much energy and accomplished so much. Unfortunately, his vision of New York was car-centric. If only he had used his energy on Mass Transit projects instead. The author did a great job describing the changes in New York from the 1920's to the 1970's.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2007

    Too much

    The book is too vindictive, too angry, on two fronts: the subject matter himself and his treatment by the author. I unfortunately am like many people, not willing to endure an avalanche of angry news. For example: Robert Moses stole the glory of the Niagara State Park. He had the plaques with the founder¿s name removed, and had plaques with his own name put in. It is so sickening, so low, and so depressing, that I unfortunately stopped reading. Furthermore, the author is on a mission to destroy this despicable person, which, it too, is sickening. In some books, there is a turning point that stops me reading further. I did not have the stomach to read further about the ignominy of Robert Moses, or his line by line, page by page dragging through the mud. No doubt he was a great builder. I hope for the sake of those who continue reading that the author weighs Robert Moses¿ achievements with his iniquities, and makes them feel slightly better than the irate, bitter reader that I became. The author was simply too vindictive and resentful for my liking, and the subject too poisonous. Even Stalin, about who I was reading simultaneously, did not come across as such a ghastly person. And will someone please correct ¿insure¿ to read ¿ensure¿ in the next edition?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2014

    A must read for all seeking to understand public service. A def

    A must read for all seeking to understand public service.

    A definite must read for urbanites.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Highest Recommendation - incredibly comprehensive and fascinating

    This may be the best non-fiction book I've ever read. Caro is an exacting researcher and excellent writer. The combination of his talents and the details of Robert Moses' life make for fascinating reading. After finishing The Power Broker, I'm chomping at the bit to read Caro's volumes on LBJ.

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  • Posted June 6, 2012

    Best book I ever read, and an absolute MUST for anyone with any

    Best book I ever read, and an absolute MUST for anyone with any connection to New York City. Read it and WEEP, WEEP, WEEP for the permanent destruction of your city caused by Robert Moses.

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  • Posted May 8, 2012

    Robert Caro's addiction to his subject matter makes incredibly c

    Robert Caro's addiction to his subject matter makes incredibly compelling reading! I used to live in New York and was always struck by Robert Moses' footprint on that great place. This book is simple awesome! (As are his LBJ books - can't wait to read the fourth volume!)

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  • Posted August 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A wonderful book

    This writer really sets a high standard for writing and scholarshiop. I recently reread it and found it just as good as I remembered it. If you're interested in history and new york city you are bound to enjoy it.

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  • Posted March 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    What are you waiting for?

    I am absolutely baffled whenever I meet a New Yorker who hasn't read this book. You will never look at the neighborhood that you live in, the roads that you drive on, the parks that you visit, or New York as a whole the same way ever again. An entertaining and revealing look at the fascinating, and often very disturbing, stories that lie beneath every inch of this great state.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    Great true story

    Well researched and exciting read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2006

    A must read book for all new yorkers

    I have to give credit to the author. A monumental task. A must read book for all new yorkers. For those who are easily affended be cautious. Overall Robert Moses has my respect for the contributions he made to New York City but he gets two thumbs down for handling people. Thanks Robert Caro.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2004

    Power, talent, no conscience

    After reading this book you might well wonder how this arrogant public servant escaped prison. You might want to petition to have every park and roadway that is named after him renamed! On the other hand Robert Caro makes the case for how and why Robert Moses was able to do what he did extremely understandable, and even, inevitable to a point. In the early years, as Caro rightly points out, Robert Moses' vision helped the city out of its doldrums of the Great Depression. He offered hope and a future when the present seemed so doubtful. At what point did Moses shift from a true visionary to a ruthless, megalomaniacal autocrat? To a neighborhood-squashing tyrant without conscience? There is no one event or series of events to explain this change, and Caro wisely avoids claiming there is. That is not his concern, anyway. What Caro does map out are the paths of destruction that Moses gouged through the metropolitan area. The interviews and extended quotations are very revealing, almost chilling. Moses's sang froid about New Yorkers--and how he cultivated it for half a century--defies reason. Yet this book, 'The Power Broker' is as close to an understanding of Robert Moses as we'll ever get.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2003

    Inftrastructural visionary

    Caro offers for the reader the political know-how of one of New York's biggest political figures. Mose's visions romanticize the developement of the NYC/Long Island region in a pre-computer age version of SIM city.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2001

    A Must-Read for Anyone Stuck in Traffic

    'The Power Broker' details New Yorker Robert Moses' slow rise to power as an idealistic Wilsonian Democrat fighting the entrenched power of corrupt Tammany Hall politics, his novel approach to parks planning (he invented the 'parkway,' for example), his massive public works (among them the Triborough Bridge and all of New York City's expressways), and his inevitable decline and fall after he refused to relinquish power in old age. As time wore on Moses became less and less the man of the people and more and more the man of the system of his own creation, and that system was the toll-gathering mechanism of New York's bridges and tunnels. He invented that peculiar institution, the 'authority' (as in Port 'Authority' or Tennessee Valley 'Authority') that is neither wholly governmental nor wholly private, and so lacks the restraints of either; Moses' cash cows kept him in power and gave him an antidemocratic arrogance that is truly breathtaking and, one hopes, will never be duplicated. Caro shows us the book's central irony--Moses came to power as an anti-Tammany reformer, then gradually became a stone-cold status quo icon who couldn't be budged. Ever wonder why New York City's expressways are so confusingly laid out? Could it have something to do with the fact that Moses had a Packard and chauffeur at his beck-and-call and never worried about driving? In the forties and fifties cities across the USA rushed to emulate New York (big city--big problems--big solutions). Now cities all over America are rushing to supplement or undo Moses' work, tearing down high-rise public housing in favor of garden apartments, refusing to widen the freeways knowing they'll just clog up again (sometimes they'll sell concession rights to private tollways, but those tollways are definitely not nickle-and-dime affairs), and of course beefing up commuter train and light-rail service. When Moses started ripping out streetcar lines in the late 1940s, he called it 'progress'. Since when is destroying your transportation infrastructure a sign of progress? This is an extremely long book and, though riveting, extremely 'wonky' in terms of detail. Politicos will love following the passage of laws in Albany and social-history buffs will be amused at Moses' choice of shirts (Brooks Bros.' until his fastidious boss gave him a whole box of Sulka). In the 1960s, the news that one track of a double-track railroad could carry more people than an eight-lane freeway was just an amusing point of trivia; now it's cause for revolt as hapless commuters beat their steering wheels in frustration, fix their faces, shave, change radio stations, imagine non-existent rapid transit lines running down the center median. When bureaucrats give us what they want us to have, not what we want to have, dislocations inevitably result. Read this fascinating book and find out how New York City and the surrounding area regrettably missed out on the opportunity to make itself a much more rational, orderly, livable place during the 20th Century.

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