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
"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)
A spellbinding telling of the life of an ambitious, intellectual giant. His ability to transcend normal human limitations was matched only by his corruptible nature.
Excellent book from Caro as usual. I found, however, that I could have lived with just the first downloaded Part 1 and maybe a synopsis of the rest. If you're from NYC I'm sure the book is fascinating from beginning to (what was painful for me) end. I'm from UPSTATE NY and while I appreciate the history of it all, I can't say I enjoyed this as I did Caro's book on LBJ.
Absolutely, especially to anyone familiar with the city. It's perfect for anyone interested in politics but it describes NY in such great detail it's good to be knowledgeable about the area. Robert Caro is a superb writer. He illustrates so well how a young idealist can be torn down and remade into a cutthroat official. It really is amazing to hear about all the people Moses worked with intimately. Al Smith, FDR, Laguardia, Rockefeller among many more are all important characters in the story. Really a fascinating biography.
Robert Dean does a great job throughout. His deep voice seems perfect for describing a tough SOB like Moses. I especially enjoyed when he reads about Al Smith and Laguardia.
Not all great men are good
Like Robert Moses, I can claim great accomplishments -- like listening to all of this massive tome. But it was easy. Brilliantly researched, written and performed. Both the story of a compelling but deeply flawed character and an inside look at how things got done in NY over a 50 year period. i consumed it in stages over two years but never had a problem reentering the story even after putting it aside for months at time.
A phenomenal work of investigative journalism that captures the behind the scenes manipulations that shape the lives of New Yorkers every day. Moses was a schemer and an authoritarian despot who was able to capitalize on characteristic that both makes and breaks most New Yorkers—impatience. He built amazing things, usually at devastating expense.
The only reason I did not give this five stars is because there was some coverage that--reading this book many years after it was published--I suspect was left on the cutting room floor. Not much on the Rockaway improvements here, and not a single mention of Jane Jacobs. I will have to follow up by weeding through old Caro interviews to see where those bits went. I'd also be interested in reading some defenses of Moses, just for the sake of equal time.
A few other notes/questions:
1. Why, oh why, is this not available on Kindle? When listening to intense histories I like to be able to refer to the book and notes as I go, and being able to search an ebook for keywords is very helpful in that respect. And also, this is not a book that fits easily into one's purse.
2. And finally: This would make a freaking amazing long-form TV series, a modern day, real-world Game of Thrones. Who is sitting on the rights and why isn't it in development with HBO (or Netflix?) already?
3. The audio performance is quite good, but I found it excruciatingly slow, to the point where the voice seemed distorted (perhaps a recording or download glitch?). I found it sounded much more natural when sped up 1.25x (although still a little slow; I listened at 1.5-2x).
Comprehensive and full of details about the inner workings of city, state and federal government. Robert Moses remains a polarizing historical figure, however I cannot imagine what NYC, LI and Westchester would look like without his vision and determination.
This was such a wonderful story told about the man behind many of the public works in the NYC-Metro area, which I use every day without giving a second thought to there origins or the man behind it. Robert Caro is easily the greatest biographer I've ever read!
Detailed research that the writer translates into masterful story telling.
He has a soothing, easy voice, and yet is able to change when appropriate for effect.
66 hours and change? No way would I want to listen to in one sitting. I wouldn't be able to stand again!
A wonderful read for anyone who lives in the tri-state area, and especially, for those who go through the daily grind of commuting for work in that area. It's an eye-opening read!
phenomenal writing, in depth, well researched and full of character and humanity. achievements on this scale don't seem to happen in the west anymore or are more virtual than bricks and mortar. in the east, where such things happen, it is too often by committee, behind the veil of the communist party or gulf state gerontocracies, and financed by mountains of cash. nothing compares to the circumstances that coincided with Moses's achievements: the depression and WWII! an impressive man, but sadly also such a deeply flawed one too.
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