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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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  •  
    jeff pickering, ON, Canada 09-15-11
    jeff pickering, ON, Canada 09-15-11 Member Since 2014

    Non fiction- science, history,biography,80% classics 10% other fiction 5% misfits 5%

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    "AMAZING read"

    This is such an amazing listening experience! If this was fiction you would say it was way too far fetched. Truth is so much stranger. Of my 300 audible books this is in the top 5. For those of you who have been lucky enough to read.. Master of the Senate.. this is the book end for that fab series on lyndon johnson. It was robert caros purpose to expose the workings of power on the local and national level, hence this award winning masterpiece of research and writing, taking almost 10 years to write, AND the lyndon johnson series, the last of which were still waiting for impatiently. I learned so much about power, politics and how the world really works by reading caros masterpieces. If you dont like long books- Be forewarned it is long, really long! I wouldnt cut a single word out of it though. It was actually been cut and edited back to fit in a paperback form. A must read, as far as I'm concerned

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Pickering, Ontario, Canada 05-15-12
    Jeff Pickering, Ontario, Canada 05-15-12 Member Since 2014

    54 yrs, ,memb 12yrs,library -75%nonfic 10% fiction,15% classics. History, all sciences, bio, classics,diverse other interests.

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    "AN ASTOUNDING UNFORGETTABLE TRIUMPH !!!!"

    Sound over the top? Its not. This is that oh so rare super-book that leaves you gasping at its unimaginable stupendednes . Doubt it? check out its amazon ratings or try to find an award it hasnt won. You may recognize Caro from his masterful Lyndon Johnson multi-book bio which includes MASTER OF THE SENATE. or his just released volume of said- titled The Passage Of Power

    You may not have heard of Robert Moses before but once you read this you'll wonder how thats possible ! I really don't know what else to say other than its a masterpiece that's not to be missed and its in the top 5 of my 900 titles. Very long book but worth every word! Well narrated and a MUST READ if there ever was one.

    OH hbo is making a mini series of this book that should be coming out in a year or 2

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Krasner 01-01-13 Member Since 2015

    I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.

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    "A spectacular history of New York City"


    Robert Moses is a classic example of the enigmatic political giant. Simultaneously, a genius and heartless dictator, it is difficult for me to make up my mind about his true value. The book is spectacular in portraying both his unbelievable accomplishments and the heartless manner in which he achieved them. Although he did build many public works, it appears that these parkways, expressways and bridges, although visually monumental, were ultimately damaging to the healthy growth of New York City. It’s clear that he built all of these structures for the facilitation of the automobile. His total dedication to the automobile, his genius and his stubbornness are aptly portrayed in one small vignette: When he designed and constructed all of the Parkways in New York, he made all of the bridges that crossed them, less than eleven feet of clearance. He acknowledged that this would prevent the passage of any busses. This has prevented the use of these Parkways for public transportation and would have helped reduced traffic congestion. It’s clear that he wanted visible monuments to himself because he refused to have any tunnels constructed. His solution to traffic congestion caused by his bridges was to build more bridges even though the evidence was that bridges were the cause of the problem not the solution. Had he spent one tenth the money and effort on public transportation, the horrible traffic congestion and urban sprawl that resulted would have been eliminated. As a study in the attainment in power, this book is superb and is easily on the same level with Machiavelli’s, “The Prince”. Although Moses achieved so much, it is hard to like a man who was so arrogant and condescending to everyone. He was the living example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely. One strange omission was the sage of the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a Brooklyn Dodger fan, I was disappointed that Caro didn’t point out that Moses singlehandedly forced the Dodgers to move to California. This is a great book and one that is both educational and exciting.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen SPRING VALLEY, NY, United States 03-15-12
    Stephen SPRING VALLEY, NY, United States 03-15-12
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    "A must-know for New Yorkers"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    If you grew up in the New York area, as I did, whether you've even heard of him or not, Robert Moses had a dramatic impact on your life. Virtually every highway in NY and Long Island is where it is because Moses said it should be and most parks are either there because of Moses or look that way they do because of him.

    Moses was a controversial figure, to be sure, and Caro pulls no punches in criticizing him thoroughly and harshly in many cases (a Moses sympathizer might argue that the entire book is one long hit piece). But the book also brilliantly chronicles the story of one of the great bureaucrats in the world history; a man who simply know how to get things done and get them done his way, come Hell or high water. Elliot Spitzer once said that if a Moses biography would be written today, it would be entitled


    What did you like best about this story?

    The way Caro traces the development of Moses' personality from young good government idealist to power-obsessed king of his own feifdom.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The confrontation with Wagner on inauguration day over the appointment to the city planning board summed up Moses in a single incident.You could hate the man and have more power than the man, but you still couldn't resist doing what he ordered you to do.


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

    This is not really a funny or sad book, though some of the anecdotes are pretty funny.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jack annapolis, MD, United States 01-19-14
    jack annapolis, MD, United States 01-19-14 Member Since 2009
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    "A masterpiece"

    In the Jewish religion on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement,there is a reckoning. All of your good deeds are written down and the all of the bad deeds. they are placed on a scale and you are so judged. This book is Robert Moses' day or reckoning. All of the good deeds and bad deeds are recorded over more than 66 hours of audio and judged by Robert Caro, master biographer. In the process we learn as much about Robert Caro and his values as Robert Moses. Mr. Caro is able to make the most mundane traffic planning commitee meetings into Shakesperian drama and power struggles. And there are a lifetime of planning and building documented here. In fact, we learn very little of Robert Moses personal life, aside from the fact he was mean to his older brother Paul and cheated him out of his birthright.
    On the other hand we learn about all of the power struggles and maneuvering that went into the planning and building of Jones Beach and the development of Long Island. We learn of Moses ability to drive a stake and take possession of homes, lands and other people's ideas to achieve his goal of parks and public works. How he would sell his soul to the devil for power. How he utilized public resources and facilites fro his own devices.And how he knowingly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, unnecessarily for his title one projects and super highways and bridges.
    Along the waty we learn everything there is to know about New York politics and power struggles, inclusive of the years 1920 to 1970. Including, Alfred Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, Herman Lehman, Fiorello Laguardia, Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Wagner and John Lindsay.
    Mr .Caro has invested 10 years of his life into investigating and interviewing every one involved with at least 82 years of Mr. Moses 91 year life. Even after listening to the entire book it is difficult to know how to judge Mr. Moses. Almost no one else in the History of the world had such single mindedness and drive to acquire power through bulilding parks, bridges and roads, rather than by obtaining high offices or fighting wars. As Mr. Caro points out there is no comparable person in recorded history.
    This is by far the most edifying book I have ever read, and I would say the best book I have listened to or read. I guess I will have to listen to the Lyndon Johnson series to fill the void in my life.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 09-30-13
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 09-30-13 Member Since 2014

    Curtis

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    "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely"

    A story of an idealist, Robert Moses, who becomes jaded and calloused by the system, who learns to work the system to gain power, and who then proceeds to collect more and more power over his long career. This power corrupts him quickly and completely. You will despise the man and his methods while being fascinated by his cleverness. I debated on whether to give this excellent book 4 or 5 stars, and I only opted for the lower rating because of the length. Moses stayed in power for over 40 years. and there was plenty of material for Caro to write about. After a while, the incidences and conflicts become a bit repetitive. I think It would have held my undivided attention better if some of the repeated stories had been cataloged but not told in their entirety. Caro tells the stories masterfully, and some may wish he related even more. I would have preferred a few less.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James OAKLAND, CA, United States 02-13-12
    James OAKLAND, CA, United States 02-13-12
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    "Landmark, the best of many genres."
    Where does The Power Broker rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Top 3. Quite simply the greatest combined work of public administration, urban planning, political biography, and big city politics ever. For any young man or woman who is considering a career in public service, read this first. It is superior to any single graduate course in public administration of political science, and provides an important tutorial on how the real world works. The audio version is wonderful


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

    Caro's LBJ series is the only serious competitor in the field of 20th century political biography.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Spoiler alert; one example of the power of Robert Moses was how he was able to push around Governor and then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Turangalila Long Island, NY, USA 07-13-13
    Turangalila Long Island, NY, USA 07-13-13 Member Since 2012

    music geek

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    "Every LI'er (NY'er/American) should know this book"

    I was born on Long Island in the year after Nelson Rockefeller finally brought to an end Robert Moses' decades of almost unfathomable power. I grew up in the landscape and society he did so much to create: amid his roads and his parks, and the suburban sprawl and ennui they made possible (indeed inevitable). My forbears were the poor Irish who came over to work for the rich Barons whom he fought, defeated, and later allied with. My family's upward mobility was won largely through the construction trades that his projects bankrolled and shaped. Hecksher State Park, Jones Beach, the Southern State Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, the Long Island Railroad that he nearly killed – these shaped my youth; they helped shape me, and millions of others of my generation and our successors.

    I never quite understood how and why my society came to be this way until I finally tackled Caro's masterful biography cum history. I'd tried and failed before to read it, but it wasn't until I tried this wonderful audio version that I was able to absorb the whole of it. Robertson Dean's reading is a bit deliberate at times – I was grateful for Audible's Narration Speed feature, and listened to much of it at 1.25 times normal – but he does wonderful work in navigating Caro's sometimes dense prose, especially in the long exegeses of urban planning, legal niceties, economics, natural history, engineering, and on and on, which are crucial to understanding Moses' methods and impact.

    Not that Caro neglects the human element. Indeed, the character portraits of figures like Fiorello LaGuardia, Joseph Papp, the dogged reporters who did so much to cut Moses' image down to size in the '50s and '60s, and especially of the criminally neglected Al Smith, are each worth the price of admission.

    He's equally thorough and insightful in his portrayal of the wider society: the elites who Moses fought and later controlled, the neighborhoods he ended up destroying, and especially the press he played like a cheap fiddle (the New York Times especially does not come out of this book smelling too rosy).

    I only wish Caro had come back to this subject in succeeding decades and brought his intrepid scholarship and insight to the history of post-Moses era; but he chose instead to spend the next 40+ years on LBJ. After experiencing this amazing more-than-biography, I look forward to tackling that even larger opus, probably with Audible's help.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mario Nicolais 06-04-15 Member Since 2015
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    "MAGNIFICENT!!!"
    What made the experience of listening to The Power Broker the most enjoyable?

    Anyone with a passing interest in politics, power, the development of modern day New York City, or just a great biography needs to listen to this book. Yes, it is long (66 hours), but that only means you get more bang for your buck.

    A truly wonderful book to


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris P. Pasadena, CA United States 03-30-15
    Chris P. Pasadena, CA United States 03-30-15 Member Since 2005
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    "How to Accumulate Power"
    What did you love best about The Power Broker?

    It showed how Robert Moses obsessively gained power and welded it for decades while building much of modern New York. Do you think that if Robert Moses was alive now that it would have taken a decade to rebuild the World Trade Center?


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    How his absolute power corrupted him. No one should have this much influence. On the other hand, New York probably would not work nearly as well today if this tyrant hadn't built it so cohesively.


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

    How to Bankrupt a City in 6 Easy Decades


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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