This week I finished reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. I have now abided by my New Years’ Resolution to read all of Robert Caro’s ‘doorstopper’ biographies. I think this is one of the best works of non-fiction that you could grab your hands on.
The book is about how Robert Moses used his legislative/legal/financial genius to undermine New York’s democratic processes. Moses got control of the planning and building of parks, bridges, highways, housing projects, the World’s Fair. No one – not even President Roosevelt could get in his way – until Nelson Rockefeller came along …
The book explained the political history of New York City and Albany. Caro wrote with detail on the people important to Robert Moses’ career, Governor Al Smith and Mayor La Guardia. Caro explained Albany’s political organisations – the Republican’s Black Horse Cavalry and the Democrat Party’s Tammany Hall.
Furthermore, It was an examination of the history of the New York Civil Service, and the rise and centralisationof local authorities in America. This led to decisions made on the whims of one person. Parts of Robert Moses’ story reminded me of Homer Simpson’s “The Garbageman Can” antics as Springfield’s Sanitation Commissioner. The difference being, of course- that Robert Moses was never elected.
My personal highlight was the author’s explanation of how Moses built and got the funding in place to develop the Riverside Drive as part of his West Side Improvement project. The section on how Robert Moses ruined and instigated urban decay in low-income areas was grim reading. Robert Caro’s phrase is “power reveals,” throughout the book you see Robert Moses turn from being a political idealist to becoming an absolute rogue.
If you would like to know more about this topic but don’t have the time to read a 1200 page book, I recommend watching William Hague’s interview with the author for the Intelligence Squared series.