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The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York | [Robert A. Caro]

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

Robert Caro's monumental book makes public what few outsiders have known: that Robert Moses was the single most powerful man of our time in the City and in the State of New York. And in telling the Moses story, Caro both opens up to an unprecedented degree the way in which politics really happens - the way things really get done in America's City Halls and Statehouses - and brings to light a bonanza of vital new information.
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Publisher's Summary

For the sheer magnitude, depth and authority of its revelations, The Power Broker stands alone - a huge and galvanizing biography revealing not only the virtually unknown saga of one man's incredible accumulation of power, but the hidden story of the shaping (and mis-shaping) of New York through the past half-century.

Robert Caro's monumental book makes public what few outsiders have known: that Robert Moses was the single most powerful man of our time in the City and in the State of New York. And in telling the Moses story, Caro both opens up to an unprecedented degree the way in which politics really happens - the way things really get done in America's City Halls and Statehouses - and brings to light a bonanza of vital new information about such national figures as Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the genesis of their blood feud), and about Fiorello La Guardia, John V. Lindsay, and Nelson Rockefeller.

But The Power Broker is first and foremost a brilliant multidimensional portrait of a man - an extraordinary man who, denied power within the normal framework of the democratic process, stepped outside that framework to grasp power sufficient to shape a great city and to hold sway over the very texture of millions of lives. We see how Moses began: the handsome, intellectual young heir to the world of Our Crowd, an idealist. How, rebuffed by the entrenched political establishment, he fought for the power to accomplish his ideals. How he first created a miraculous flowering of parks and parkways, playlands and beaches - and then ultimately brought down on the city the smog-choked aridity of our urban landscape, the endless miles of (never sufficient) highway, the hopeless sprawl of Long Island, the massive failures of public housing, and countless other barriers to humane living. How, inevitably, the accumulation of power became an end in itself.

Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He was held in fear - his dossiers could disgorge the dark secret of anyone who opposed him. He was, he claimed, above politics, above deals; and through decade after decade, the newspapers and the public believed.

Meanwhile, he was developing his public authorities into a fourth branch of government known as "Triborough" - a government whose records were closed to the public, whose policies and plans were decided not by voters or elected officials but solely by Moses - an immense economic force directing pressure on labor unions, on banks, on all the city's political and economic institutions, and on the press, and on the Church. He doled out millions of dollars' worth of legal fees, insurance commissions, lucrative contracts on the basis of who could best pay him back in the only coin he coveted: power. He dominated the politics and politicians of his time - without ever having been elected to any office. He was, in essence, above our democratic system.

Robert Moses held power in the state for 44 years, through the governorships of Smith, Roosevelt, Lehman, Dewey, Harriman, and Rockefeller, and in the city for 34 years, through the mayoralties of La Guardia, O'Dwyer, Impellitteri, Wagner, and Lindsay. He personally conceived and carried through public works costing 27 billion dollars - he was undoubtedly America's greatest builder.

This is how he built and dominated New York - before, finally, he was stripped of his reputation (by the press) and of his power (by Nelson Rockefeller). But his work, and his will, had been done.

©1975 Robert A. Caro (P)2011 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Clodhopper Tucson, AZ, United States 08-28-13
    Clodhopper Tucson, AZ, United States 08-28-13 Member Since 2005

    I'm a geologist and I use Audible books to while away long hours on the road... My pickup truck is my reading room!

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    "Too much detail, too little power."

    As an historian, Robert Caro is comprehensive to a fault. From this exhaustive biography of Robert Moses to his multi-volume encyclopedia of the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Caro has shown an aptitude for assembling historical detail. And even for writing it down in relatively accessible, popular prose.

    But in my opinion, the real achievement of a great biographer is to sift through the welter of detail that make up the subject’s life, cull out the inconsequential minutiae, and distill the crucial material into an epiphany that illuminates the person’s life and explains the impact that it has had on ours.

    Robert Caro is capable of such biographical alchemy when he wants to be. In the introduction to this book, he does a good job of summarizing who Moses was, why he was important, and what was, or is, the essential fraudulence that mars his otherwise monumental life’s work. But once you start into the body of the book, Caro’s compulsion for detail, his inability to exscind trivia, wear heavily upon the reader’s patience.

    In the end, I believe that half the book could have been twice as compelling; If Caro had been willing to do the job of discriminating between fact and substance, and select the quintessence of Moses’ life from the quotidian episodes that make up every human life.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mario 10-09-14
    Mario 10-09-14 Member Since 2014
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    "If you read you must read this book!"

    This book is a must read and part of any top 50 list before you hit the can.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jenny Jenkins Old Chatham, NY 06-29-14
    Jenny Jenkins Old Chatham, NY 06-29-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Superb Narration of an Essential Story"
    Where does The Power Broker rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Probably among the top two or three. It does all that I ask of audiobooks. It permits me to read long books that I don't have time to read otherwise; keeps me intellectually engaged; and provides a narrator whose grasp of the material is reflected in the nuanced way in which he or she reads.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Robert Moses literally shaped New York City's 20th and 21st century destiny. Robert Caro pieces together the story of how and why Robert Moses did so to weave a universal story of power and how it is acquired and maintained, a personal story of a man of greatness and severe deficiencies, and an essential study of urban planning and government, and their ways, means, and impacts.


    What about Robertson Dean’s performance did you like?

    Robertson Dean's straightforward, intelligent, heartfelt, measured performance was incredible. He seemed to fully understand all that he was reading -- familiar with all the names and ideas found there -- and I wondered how many times he had read the text before the performance. His pacing was also perfect -- not too fast, not too slow.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It made me furious. I hadn't realized that the lack of amenities -- park areas, playground areas -- in Harlem and other principally black neighborhoods was not the result of benign neglect but of active racism. Having grown up there and now being a mother myself, I now see that the teenaged boys who lived in cramped, unpleasant apartments had no other recourse than to hang out in the streets and expose themselves to bad influences and predators -- the odds were so stacked against them from that aspect of their existence alone. I also hadn't realized to what extent the funds that might have improved schools and hospitals -- facilities that were crumbling in the 1950s through 1970s -- were channeled instead to the highways and bridges that Moses masterminded. And I was inspired by those who successfully -- and unsuccessfully -- fought against Moses' incursions into thriving neighborhoods, and fascinated to see how Moses' power eventually and suddenly crumbled.


    Any additional comments?

    I don't know if this would be as compelling to the reader who isn't able to visualize the places under scrutiny -- Randall's Island, Triboro Bridge, Jones Beach. But if you are familiar with New York and don't really understand how this city became the way it is now, you must listen to this book. The story of Robert Moses is -- not at all metaphorically but in the most concrete sense -- the story of New York, the city and the state.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin 04-15-14
    Kevin 04-15-14 Member Since 2010

    Husband, Dad, Principal, Adjunct prof, RC Deacon, radio co-host, story teller, NYer, walker, & occasional sipper of fine whisk(e)y,

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    "wow! still interesting after 35+ years"

    Great look at a NY icon, or is it megalomaniac? A MUST for folks interested in Politics - especially New York Politics!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Richmond, British Columbia, Canada 04-10-14
    Anne Richmond, British Columbia, Canada 04-10-14 Member Since 2011

    Avid general reader with a fondness for British and Irish Writers and world history.

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    "Caro is amazing"

    The author will leave a very valuable legacy in US political history. He can't be faulted for his research and readily admits what he surmises but can not prove. There was a bit too much repetition in the book. It could have done with a good edit. Nonetheless, the information is both revealing and disconcerting. One would like to believe that the USA was mainly built by honest men with good intentions but there is too much evidence proving graft, corruption and deceit were involved. The book is certainly not one which loyal Americans would want to hold in reverence but if they fail to recognize the truthfulness of the writing, the future does not bode well.

    The narrator does an excellent job.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RH Beirut 03-23-14
    RH Beirut 03-23-14 Member Since 2012

    ahleeeen

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    "True Power Broker!"
    Where does The Power Broker rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Top 5


    What other book might you compare The Power Broker to and why?

    Master of the Senate - Lyndon Johnson


    Which character – as performed by Robertson Dean – was your favorite?

    Robert Moses


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Robert Moses' character transition from ambitious park expander, to seeking power for the sake of power.


    Any additional comments?

    Beautifully written and read! Great character build-up makes it read like a political thriller!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rose Marie Holt Nampa, ID USA 03-12-14
    Rose Marie Holt Nampa, ID USA 03-12-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Mercilessly comprehensive"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Like Caro's books on LBJ this book provides context by essentially giving us a history of New York as well as an apparently unbiased complete biography of someone who basically created New York City.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I'll never have to read about Moses again except to reread this


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    Nothing


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Robert Moses, the most important man you'Ve never heard of


    Any additional comments?

    I want to go back to New York for the month it would take to do a Moses themed tour.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Casper Paludan New York 11-30-13
    Casper Paludan New York 11-30-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Cannot say enough positive things aboit it..."
    What did you love best about The Power Broker?

    One word summarizes my experience: rich. This book covers so many aspects of not just Robert, but of New York history, American history, American politics, the mechanics of achievement, morals, public opinion, the human psyche, and of course transportation.

    The reader finds himself drawn to Moses, then repelled by him; rooting for him, then anticipating his downfall; marveling at his unshakable faith in his own ability, then wishing for his detractors to put a stop to his bruising our city.

    There are 30 minute passages in this book that read as completely life-like descriptions of life in the tenements, the general state of disrepair of New York's parks pre-Moses, his genius in scraping together, almost dollar by dollar, the financing for the Henry Hudson Highway, the inexorable destruction of a Bronx neighborhood, and more; passages you will bookmark and return to.

    I cannot imagine a person who would not find this incredibly valuable. I certainly do.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I love how long and detailed it is. I felt like I lived this book more than read, or listened to it. If you believe that we create our own reality by what we give thought to, a powerful testament to how gripping this book is that after finishing it, I saw that the author is due to speak at my university in a couple of months.


    What does Robertson Dean bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    A sense of drama and ease of narration. He makes the waves go deeper, and higher, than I have experienced in a long time.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The description of the lack of recreational facilities for the city dwellers, is very powerful. The reader knows that Moses will fix the picture, or dramatically improve it, but no mention is made of him for about 30 minutes, as the horrible reality pre-Moses, is described in vivid detail.


    Any additional comments?

    Parts of this book are very uplifting, as Moses was a man who, for a long time, did many good things for the city's poor. Other parts makes the reader cringe. Whatever the final verdict on Moses is, and it is a very negative one these days, I find it uplifting to dwell on the positives. There are many, and they are magnificent.

    This book will make you interested in many subjects, so be ready to become a (more) voracious reader.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas 11-18-13
    Thomas 11-18-13
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    "Wow. Just wow."

    How had I gone 51 years of voracious reading and never even heard of this book? Yikes, it's scary what we don't know. Anyway, The Power Broker is right up there with the very best history/biography books I've ever read. I'd place it right up there with William Manchester's "The Last Lion" and "American Caesar, and that's a pretty high standard.

    The book is so great that I won't get into detail on how or why it is great. It's just great.

    A few observations:

    The narrator's voice is fine, it really is, but his voice is right there on the edge where it can be almost annoying. I'm not saying it crosses that line, but it's close. There's such a thing as having too deep and too rich of a voice. The narrator's voice almost sounds like it's on slight slow-motion sometimes. But I got through 61 hours of his voice and there was no point where I even didn't like his voice. But I didn't love it, either.

    One part of the book that surprised me a little was how little Robert Caro got into the deep psychology of Robert Moses. Maybe Caro consciously chose to avoid psychology, thus avoiding a trap common to biographies. But Robert Moses showed such clear and overwhelming signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and I mean a REALLY EXTREME case of NPD.

    And one last thing... I'm glad I listened to all 61 hours of this book, but after having gotten through it, I would love to read an abridged version and see how well all of Caro's main points could have been made in half the pages. This unabridged version does go on and on and on and really makes it's point no matter how long it takes. If Robert Caro wants to make a point, he will front-load it and back it up and fill in the background no matter how long it takes. If it takes 45 minutes to document one seemingly minor point, Caro will take that time. It would be interesting if I could get as much out of this book in half the pages. Maybe I could, and maybe I couldn't, but it would be nice to find out, because this book is a commitment.

    That's about it. If you enjoy history, this book must go to the top of your wish list.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Lindenhurst, NY, United States 08-25-13
    John Lindenhurst, NY, United States 08-25-13

    i like books.

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    "The best biography I have ever heard."
    What made the experience of listening to The Power Broker the most enjoyable?

    I cannot believe that a story of this magnitude and importance has never gained prominence on a popular level.


    What did you like best about this story?

    What I loved about this story is the fact that it is about how one man, an (unelected) public official, changed the face of New York politics and civil engineering, and in the course of this pursuit, changed the face of how America's roads are conceived and built. So much of how we live is dependent on the roads that surround us, and, on Long Island especially, Robert Moses is the single unifying figure in the formation of our modern highway system.


    Have you listened to any of Robertson Dean’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have never listened to the man before, but his narration was efficient and excellent.


    If you could give The Power Broker a new subtitle, what would it be?

    The most important story that no one ever talks about.


    Any additional comments?

    Jesus Christ this book is good. At certain points you can feel yourself slipping into disbelief, but Caro backs all of his assertions up with cold hard facts. Granted, I haven't done the independent research, but I have to assume that a book as heavily annotated as this is as accurate as it can possibly be. This should be required reading for students in any number of disciplines from political science to history to engineering. A truly ground-shattering work of genius.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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