The Power Broker - Commercial and Critical Reception

Commercial and Critical Reception

The Power Broker caused quite a stir when it was published, after the "One Mile" chapter ran as an excerpt in The New Yorker. The chapter highlighted the difficulties in constructing one section of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the way Moses ran roughshod over the interests of the section of East Tremont the road effectively destroyed. Prior to publication, Caro, largely unknown at the time, dared to challenge the magazine's legendary editor, William Shawn, over his changes to Caro's prose. It was common for the magazine to edit excerpts to conform to its house style, which did not make allowance for many of the author's narrative flourishes, such as single-sentence paragraphs. Caro also complained that much of his work had been compressed.

It won the Pulitzer in biography in 1974, as well as the Francis Parkman Prize awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best "exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist." On June 12, 1975, The New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects conferred a "Special Citation upon Robert Caro....for reminding us once again, that ends and means are inseparable." In 1986, it was recognized by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 2001 the Modern Library selected it as one of the hundred most important books of the 20th century. In 2005, Caro was awarded the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2010, President Barack Obama, after awarding Mr. Caro a National Humanities Medal, said "I think about Robert Caro and reading The Power Broker back when I was 22 years old and just being mesmerized, and I'm sure it helped to shape how I think about politics." In 2010, Mr. Caro was also inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. David Klatell, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has recommended the book to new students to familiarize themselves with New York City and the techniques of investigative reporting.

Moses and his supporters considered the book to be overwhelmingly biased against him, to the point that Moses put out a 23-page typed statement challenging some of its assertions (he claimed he never used the anti-Italian slurs the book attributes to him about Fiorello La Guardia, for instance) and what his supporters saw as a record of unprecedented accomplishment. However, as Mr. Caro states in the introduction to The Power Broker: "Moses himself, who feels his works will make him immortal, believes he will be justified by history, that his works will endure and be blessed by generations not yet born. Perhaps he is right. It is impossible to say that New York would have been a better city if Robert Moses had never lived. It is possible to say only that it would have been a different city."

In later years, some further criticisms have been made of the book, mainly that it overstates the extent of Moses's power in the 1960s. In the 21st century, as many have decried the inability of American public institutions to construct and maintain infrastructure projects, a more positive view of Moses's career has emerged. Future governor Eliot Spitzer, in a 2006 speech to the Regional Plan Association on downstate transportation needs, said a biography of Moses written today might be called At Least He Got It Built. "That's what we need today. A real commitment to get things done."

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