The Power Broker

By Robert A. Caro,

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

Book description

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro is 'simply one of the best non-fiction books in English of the last forty years' (Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times): a riveting and timeless account of power, politics and the city of New York by 'the greatest political biographer of our times' (Sunday Times);…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked The Power Broker as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

After I saw the film, Turn Every Page, which featured the relationship between editor Robert Gottlieb, and the book’s author, Robert Cairo, I decided I had to read this very famous book, and one that I should have read years ago. 

It’s massive and somewhat daunting, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I write (and used to teach) about environmental politics. This book, which focuses on the career of Robert Moses, can also be viewed as an environmental history of New York City’s built environment: the parks, the highways, the housing developments, and even the playgrounds.…

Do you remember watching the news during the pandemic, when you could see everybody’s bookcases for the first time? 

There’s a reason that everyone kept noticing this book over and over and again. First, it’s really long, which means it’s thick and the spine is very recognizable. More importantly, most people read it because of what Caro has to say about the nature of political power.

It’s a biography of Robert Moses, who held multiple state and local positions that allowed him to build most of the infrastructure in and around New York City during the mid-twentieth century: highways, bridges,…

From Jonathan's list on the history of New York City.

A gnawing hunger for the truth animates this towering author’s work on Robert Moses, New York City’s longtime “master builder” who reshaped and indisputably wrecked large chunks of thriving Gotham over the first half of the twentieth century. This book was staggeringly influential for me as a young urbanist and author coming to grips with the forces that mold the urban landscape. Caro’s intrepid, old-school reporting—a model of investigative journalism, the likes of which we could sorely use more of today—showed how one dogged writer could blow open the portals of power, hold the mighty to account, and reframe how…

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…

From Jason's list on the New York City skyline.

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. 

In this saga, Robert Caro traces the career of Robert Moses, New York’s “master builder,” who was never elected to public office but for decades was the most powerful man in the city. Part social history, part Shakespearean tragedy, The Power Broker is the story of Moses’s long fall from an idealistic young builder to a tyrant obsessed with accumulating personal power at the expense of all else. Through the accretion of innumerable well-researched details Caro plumbs the full depths of his central character, while revealing how Moses’s misguided policies carved the heart out of countless New York neighborhoods; in…

From Matthew's list on books that read like novels.

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.

From David's list on how American politics really works.

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