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Book Review:
Robert Moses biography reveals
a man always seeking more power

The Power Broker

Robert Caro, 2016

Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, as great or greater than Caro's multi-volume biography of LBJ. 


The Power Broker is one of the best non- fiction books I've ever read on any subject.  I'm mind boggled that a single extraordinary historian/ biographer could have written this 1160-page book, as lengthy as three sizeable books. Caro has one astonishing story after another, stories wilder and crazier than political science fiction. How anyone could have amassed the power of Robert Moses, though never elected to a single office, and increase and retain an empire of parks, highways, access roads, toll bridges, bond issuing "authorities", construction of the United Nations buildings, World's Fair and (for a decade) housing programs for 44 years, while simultaneously holding a dozen state and city positions at one time -- despite the intense and lasting hatred of powerful men (including FDR) is an amazement.


"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a famous aphorism demonstrated by Robert Moses' life. Moses lusted for power, never had enough to satisfy his appetite, worked throughout his life from dawn to dusk and then some, had great visions and realized many of them, and ultimately did great dis-service to the citizens of NY City by his fixation on cars and highways, to the detriment of mass transit. He ruthlessly destroyed viable neighborhoods, displacing hundreds of thousands of low-income people, was racist to the core, never forgot or forgave a slight, commonly used smear tactics to destroy opponents, and was famous for getting things done on a grand scale when other political leaders could hardly build a park or road. Caro tells the whole story warts and all, the good, the bad and the ugly, and in doing so, lays bare how political power is acquired and sustained for decades in a supposed democracy. In addition to its other merits, Caro's book is a fascinating insider story of New York City and NY state politics:  banks, unions, Tammany, the New York Times and other papers, reformers, Al Smith, LaGuardia, Bob Wagner, John Lindsey, Nelson Rockefeller. It's politics as sausage making; don't look if you're squeamish.    

© Dee Wilson

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