Robert A. Caro – The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Robert Moses played a large role in developing New York’s parks, highways, and major buildings for more than 40 years. He also displaced more than a quarter of a million people to make room for his development projects.
Caro’s primary research interest is power, and Moses is an excellent case study in that regard. He knew how to acquire it, and he knew how to use it. Caro tries his best to be evenhanded, but as with Lyndon Johnson, Caro’s other great subject, some people are just plain unlikable. Moses was a serial liar about finances dating back to his college days at Yale, when he proposed deceiving a donor to his swim team. In his professional life his obfuscations would cost taxpayers billions of dollars. He also enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, including a taxpayer-provided Cadillac limousine with three full-time chauffeurs.
The depths of his racism surprised people even back in the pre-Civil Rights days, to the point of requiring African-Americans to get permits to visit beaches, then often denying the permits on specious grounds. His development projects deliberately either ignored or paved over minority-heavy neighborhoods. Even his personal life showed a lack of character, with him writing his brother out of their mother’s will and estranging him from the rest of the family, and having several affairs and marrying a woman 28 years his junior roughly a month after his wife died.
Moses was a public hero for most of his career, but when the press and public turned on him in the 1960s, they turned hard.