"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Power and the Glory

There’s an old saying: All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more I’ve learned, the less I believe it. Power doesn’t always corrupt. What power always does is reveal. When a guy gets into a position where he doesn’t have to worry anymore, then you see what he wanted to do all along.

Robert Caro, Esquire

I grew up in a family where you were expected to know certain things–about literature, movies, politics. Being literate was required. I wasn’t a big reader as a kid, but by the time I reached high school, I tried to catch-up, all over the place, reading SJ Perelman, John O’Hara, William Faulkner, Graham Greene, and Samuel Beckett along with healthy doses of Salinger and Vonnegut. Still, I felt like a know-nothing nobody because I hadn’t read Dickens or Moby Dick or The Bible. So I faked it. I read criticism. When somebody asked me about a movie that I hadn’t seen or a book I hadn’t read, I lied.

I’m past that mishegoss now. I don’t feel the slighest bit ashamed by what I haven’t read or seen. If there is an exception, though, it is Robert Caro’s seminal biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. I feel that it is my civic duty as a New Yorker to read this massive book, cover-to-cover. I’ve picked it up at least a half-dozen times and found the prospect of reading more than 1,000 pages too daunting to handle. It’s not that the language is difficult–Caro’s prose is engaging and easy to read–but the amount of information is overwhelming.

Perhaps, for those of us who don’t have the staying power to read it all the way through, it is a book best read in spurts. Regardless, I will read it all one day. In the meantime, I don’t curse myself, and I think Caro is a fascinating guy, and a classic New Yorker, one of the handful of writers I’d most like to meet.

Dig this piece he wrote for the New Yorker in 1998 about writing The Power Broker.

And this TV interview:

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1 Raf   ~  Dec 29, 2009 11:53 am

I've read bits and pieces of it. It's a tough book to put down because there is so much information in it. I can imagine that there was so much that was left out.

Fascinating time in our city history

2 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 29, 2009 12:04 pm

I gave it the ol' college try 2 summers ago. I got about 320 pages in and felt like I had made no progress whatsoever and gave up...I might give it another shot at some point though.

I did read the first volume of Caro's LBJ magnum opus in full, and THAT was great.

3 Levi Stahl   ~  Dec 29, 2009 12:06 pm

It's a fantastic book. I read it all over the course of a week-long family vacation about ten years ago, and I still think about it every time I'm in New York. Page after page of great stories about fascinating (and sometimes horrible) people and changes in thinking about urban life that we're still dealing with today.

What I haven't read is Caro's billion-page, multi-volume, not-yet-completed Lyndon Johnson bio. Someday.

4 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 29, 2009 12:09 pm

I did a little Amazon shopping yesterday with a gift card I got.

Picked up the new Bill Simmons (it was $12 and I was gonna read it eventually anyway), "The Fifties" by Halberstam, and "Honor Thy Father" by Gay Talese. A productive little shopping spree if I do say so myself.

5 mhoward120   ~  Dec 29, 2009 12:58 pm

By all means, do read The Power Broker. It is absolutely wonderful. If you live on Long Island, ever wonder why the Northern State breaks away southeasterly from the LIE before the Meadowbrook and then heads back up in a northeastern direction? You'll find the answer in this book.

6 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Dec 29, 2009 2:58 pm

Haven't read it, but I had a friend at the Columbia J-School years back and it was required so I learned a lot about it from talking to him.

I've read the excerpts on LBJ that were published in the New Yorker a few years back. Very compelling read.

7 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 29, 2009 5:08 pm

And in a little baseball news:
Mets get Bay for 4 years, $66M
I guess the Mutts are pretty desparate these days.
It's not a terrible deal, but I don't think he will post Fenway numbers.
Better them then us.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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