Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Power Broker" @ 40

Several years ago I wrote about Robert Caro's 1974 classic book "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York."

Clocking in at around 1,200 pages, "The Power Broker" won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction and is generally considered the greatest book ever written about NYC. It tells the story of the long, complicated, and fascinating career of Robert Moses, the "master builder" who constructed roads, bridges, highways, parks, beaches, playgrounds, public housing, and huge structures like Lincoln Center and the United Nations. From the mid-1920s until the late 1960s, he was the most powerful man in New York City and New York State, a more consequential figure than any mayor or governor during that time -- or since. Because of Moses, the city's waterfront was cut off from the people, islands were bolted together, neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation wasn't built, and over half-a-million people were evicted from their homes. The city was, as Caro writes, "flooded with cars" due to Moses' works, and our city's physical landscape changed forever. 

Most shockingly, even though Moses wielded more power and had a greater effect on this city than anyone else in the 20th century, he was never elected to anything.

The story behind "The Power Broker" is equally fascinating: how the young reporter Robert Caro wrote a series of stories about Suffolk County and how it got him a grant to write a book about Moses -- a project that Caro thought would only last a year. How, instead, Caro spent seven years chronicling this incredible story and he and his wife almost went broke, living a total hand-to-mouth existence. How Caro interviewed Moses several times before the great man cut off communication with him. How interest for the book, prior to publication, was generated by serialization in The New Yorker. And how, today, on the 40th anniversary of its publication, "The Power Broker" stands as a classic that has never gone out of print. This article tells the story of how "The Power Broker" came into existence and is a must read like the book itself. 

P.S. This article uses the word "archipelago" i.e. a group of islands, to describe NYC. That is, obviously, an apt description, and I feel deep shame that I have never, in almost a decade of blogging about NYC, never referred to this city as an archipelago. After all, not only is that a neat and proper word to call our fair city, but it's a really cool one. So expect me to throw around the word "archipelago" a lot on this blog going forward. I'll start now: archipelago, archipelago, archipelago, archipelago, archipelago ... archipelago.

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