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.
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: