The Power Broker
Why read it?
5 authors picked The Power Broker as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Arguably, no single person has shaped the built environment of New York City as much as Robert Moses. To some, he was an evil dictator imposing his will on the urban fabric; while to others, he was the man who got things done. In his four-decade career, Moses oversaw the buildings of beaches, parks, highways, bridges, tunnels, public housing, slum clearance projects, and World Fairs. Caro’s work is a detailed chronicle of Moses’ life and projects. Five decades later, one can quibble with Caro’s conclusions, but it remains a jaw-dropping tome about how Moses reshaped New York, for good and…
The Power Broker is thought of as one of the best biographies of all time, having won the Pulitzer in 1974. Author Robert Caro traces the steps city planner Robert Moses took in implementing his vision of New York City, oftentimes at the detriment of the communities he served. It continues to be a lesson in what not to do when designing for the future.
Before embarking on the Bolshoi as my historical fiction playground, I spent a summer writing a fairy tale about Coney Island - the 19th century Luna Park turned into a 20th-century honkey-tonk ghetto, courtesy of a totalitarian parks department commissioner. Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses is the definitive account of the man who made New York City modern, but it also cleaves to urban gothic. The Power Broker could be subtitled Frankenstein’s metropolis. It’s about what happens when we build what we can, and not what we should.
When I showed up as a young reporter to cover my first state legislature, a wise old senator told me to read this book. It was time, he said, to graduate from civics class to the real world. As the author of a stunning multi-part biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, Caro has made himself immortal: the best writer on power since Machiavelli. But this earlier biography of Robert Moses, the man who built modern New York, is arguably more instructive, because the connection between people and projects is so intimate—often brutally so.
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