Evan Barrett's Reviews > The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
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Jun 22, 10

Read from June 05 to 22, 2010

There have been so many superlatives heaped upon this book that I will try not to repeat them, but will likely stray. This book sat on my "to-read" shelf for over a year, peering ominously, before I decided to pick it up. I thought it would take me at least three months to finish it. It took me three weeks.

Caro carefully sets up and provides payoffs for his accounts of routine meetings of obscure municipal boards as if he's writing about the Congress of Vienna. He paints a picture of a city that breathes, with seemingly not one player left out: federal, state, local politicians and bureaucrats; bankers; labor unions; slumdwellers; Long Island real estate barons; community organizers; journalists; architects, engineers, accountants; political bosses; even theater directors and popular singers. He convincingly describes in intricate and absorbing detail the motives, and the reasons for the motives, of all these players, but without ever wildly and/or surreptitiously speculating about them as I'm so used to reading in popular histories. The research that must have gone into this book is simply astounding (apparently 7 years according to the notes). And yet, I wanted more on most of the subjects. The personal history and character of most of the players, many of whom I had never heard of, are developed in such a way that it seems they should all have books such as this written about them. As a midwesterner, I learned more about the physical, social, political, and cultural geography of New York City than I had ever known, but still wanted more. That's saying something about a nearly 1200 page volume. I've read that he cut out almost one thousand extra pages, but over 90% of the material here, to me, is impossible to cut.

The stuff that is possible to cut is hard to find, but it is similar to what another poster has called repetition. There were a couple of places where it seemed like Caro was repeating himself because he didn't have much more to say about it and was drilling home a point that he wanted salient. This was particularly annoying in the use of "$2,000,000,000" instead of "two billion", whether we're talking about dollars or automobile trips. But most of the time, the repetition works to the advantage of the book. Caro repeats a phrase numerous times in the space of a few pages, and while this is annoying, 200 pages later he'll repeat the same phrase and you know immediately what he is talking about. This is not only a work of history, but a work of literature.

What this book is not, in the final analysis, is a polemic. He makes Moses a villain, sure, but only through a careful and empathetic analysis of his entire life that, I think, should resonate with any reader not coming to this book with an agenda (besides, he needs some hook to keep you reading about municipal bonds and traffic counts). He does not attribute to Moses any character flaws that cannot be deduced from his actions. When he does, he is supremely careful that he doesn't overreach. You care about the son of the bitch (Moses' favorite epithet) at the end of the book.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Kmconlon (new)

Kmconlon This is your Uncle Walter's favorite book ever. His mother thought Robert Moses was godlike; she moved from tenements in Jersey City to the place described in Little Shop of Horrors: A little development I dream of.
Just off the Interstate. Nothing fancy like Levittown. Just a little street
in a little suburb, far far from Urban Skid Row. The sweetest, greenest
place- where everybody has the same little lawn out front and the
same little flagstone patio out back. And all the houses are so neat
and pretty... 'Cause they all look just alike."


message 2: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Always great to read your reviews, and it is also great to know you are finding really good stuff to read. I always appreciate your recommendations.


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