WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
The Power Broker
Robert Caro’s monumental book makes public what few outsiders knew: that Robert Moses was the single most powerful man of his 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 information about such national figures as Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the genesis of their blood feud), 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 his power (by Nelson Rockefeller). But his work, and his will, had been done.
A modern American classic, this huge and galvanizing biography of Robert Moses reveals not only the saga of one man’s incredible accumulation of power but the story of his shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York.
PURCHASE THE BOOK
Winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize in Biography
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize
Named One of the 100 Greatest Books of the 20th Century by the Modern Library
Praise for The Power Broker
Surely the greatest book ever written about a city.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
I think about Robert Caro and reading The Power Broker back when I was twenty-two years old and just being mesmerized, and I’m sure it helped to shape how I think about politics.
Tom & Mandy Levis
THE SUNDAY TIMES
Simply one of the best nonfiction books in English of the past 40 years…There has probably never been a better dissection of political power…From the first page…you know that you are in the hands of a master…Not just a stunning portrait of perhaps the most influential builder in world history, but an object lesson in the dangers of power. Every politician should read it.
PULITZER PRIZE–WINNING BIOGRAPHER
A triumph, brilliant and totally fascinating. A majestic, even Shakespearean, drama about the interplay of power and personality.
NEW YORK MAGAZINE
A monumental work, a political biography and political history of the first magnitude.
BALTIMORE EVENING SUN
One of the most exciting, un-put-downable books I have ever read. This is a study of the corruption which power exerts on those who wield it to set beside Tacitus and his emperors, Shakespeare and his kings.
Apart from the book’s being so good as biography, as city history, as sheer good reading, The Power Broker is an immense public service.
Robert Moses interview notes, ca. 1970
Caro’s biographies rely on hundreds of interviews that invigorate his writing and add critical perspectives. The Power Broker alone included no less than 522. Getting people to speak openly requires skill. An effective tactic for Caro, especially with his most reluctant subjects, is to never break a silence.
1936 Letter from FDR to the Secretary of the Interior
When you dig the way Caro dug, these are the kinds of gems you unearth. Reference copy of a memorandum from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Secretary of the Interior, June 25, 1936.
Robert Moses in front of a map of New York City
From the Museum of the City of New York.
“Planning Calendar,” 1971
Caro’s monumental biographies require an astounding level of commitment. Although he enjoys considerable autonomy, it means he must encourage productivity through structure and habit. Among his strategies is a tool he has employed since writing The Power Broker: a daily word count with a goal of 1,000 words per day.
Crotona Park Tenants Association Letters
“In effect, for whatever reason, Robert Moses elected to tear down 159 buildings housing 1,530 families instead of tearing down six buildings housing nineteen families—and the [Third Avenue Transit] terminal.” —From The Lust for Power chapter in The Power Broker.
Hulan Jack, Mayor Wagner, Commissioner Moses, Loeb Boathouse Dedication
After a dedication ceremony in 1954 for a new boathouse on Central Park Lake, Mayor Wagner manned the oars while Mr. Jack, left, and Mr. Moses, the parks commissioner, went along for the ride.
When the curtain rose on the next act of Moses’ life, idealism was gone from the stage. In its place was an understanding that ideas—dreams—were useless without power to transform them into reality. Moses spent the rest of his life amassing power, bringing to the task imagination, iron will and determination.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO THE POWER BROKER
Robert Caro Books
He has measurably enriched our lives with his intellectual rigor, his compassion, his openness, his wit and grace.
SIR HERALD EVANS, THE NEW YORK TIMES