Rober Masses Essay, Research Paper
Review of The Power Broker By Robert Caro
Robert Moses was one of the most powerful and influential men in 20th century New
York. He held sway in both the City and State. From Mayors to Presidents were beholden
to him at one time or another. He could be magnanimous at one point and ruthless at
another. He started his career in government trying to end corruption and ended his
career with his own island, complete with a full-time captain and yacht all at tax-payer
expense. Moses eventually used his power without regard for the law or for what was
best for the public, and in the end it was this abuse of power that was his downfall.
Moses was born of well to do parents at the end of the ninetieth century. His
mother and grandmother were very assertive women, a trait that would be passed to
young Robert. He spent his early childhood in New Haven CT. where his father owned a
chain of very successful clothing stores. Despite this success his mother grew tired of
New Haven and made her husband sell the stores and move to Manhattan where her
family lived. This imposition of will on others without regard for them would be come a
prominent feature of Moses personality.
Young Robert was a very intelligent and athletic child. He was well liked by both
his teachers and fellow students. He had no difficulties in school and received high
grades. He was accepted to Yale University to be a member of the graduating class of
1909. After Yale he went on to Oxford and then to earn his Ph.D. It was at Yale that he
began to hone his skills for the power play.
After graduating he took a job as a reformer in New York where he was an
idealistic member of the Good Government movement. He was given posts of
responsibility by men who saw him as committed to the work of improving government.
These very men that gave him his first taste of power would latter come to regret the
nurturing that they had given him, because he would turn against them and the principles
His early career was marked by crusades to reform the graft, patronage and
general corruption of Tammany hall. He railed against what he saw was naked abuse by
those in power. He would latter amass such power that it would take the President of the
United States to stop only one of his abuses.
It is impossible to go into detail about the posts that Moses held, and how he
gained them and why they had as much power as they did. For the sake of this review let
us say that he was in a position to draft bills going to the legislature and he made sure
that they were favorable to any post that he might hold.
Because of his prowess at drafting bills he was able to put himself in a position to
build roads on Long Island. At the time the area was the domain of the landed gentry who
held vast estates. Through these estates the roads would have to be built and the land
condemned to the state. Here is an early example of how he abused his power to favor
those whom he like or cooperated with him, and destroy those who would not do as he
The planed route for one parkway went through the land of some powerful and
influential people. So in order to do what was politically expedient Moses changed the
route to move it away from the rich, and right through the land of the less influential. One
farmer in particular had the highway go directly through the middle of his farm. This
effectively destroyed his means of making a living at the same time saving a few hundred
feet of land for his more affluent neighbors.
One of the great things about this story is how the author weaves the history of
New York into the life of Moses. He was involved in most of the major events that
shaped the city and state. From the creation of Jones beach and the parkways that link
and transverse Long Island to the elections of New York s mayors and governors; to his
presidency of the 1964 world s fair.
The main theme of the book though is that of power and the lust for which can
corrupt a man. Starting out as an unpaid servant supported by his mother to having two
grand palaces one at Belmont Lake and another on Randall s Island. This book is also a
great study in personalities and how they react to one another. Moses has clashes with
every elected official that is in power during his reign (Even those not in power. He once
tried to physically strangle a man who had disagreed with him). The only man he has any
respect for is Al Smith. In Smith Moses finds a kindred sprit. They are both reformers
who want to help the city and state. Smith eventually loses power after his unsuccessful
bid for the presidency, but Moses remains loyal to him for the remainder of Smith s life;
the only loyalty he ever seems to have.
Moses family life is also an interesting study. His relationship with his mother
was very strong. He is quite devoted to her and in many ways is her spitting image:
arrogant, intelligent, dedicated and ambitious. It is from her that Moses gets his sense of
self. His father on the other hand he viewed as pathetic. After his father s death he would
describe him as weak, and he attributed the families wealth to his mother, when in reality
it was the father that had amassed the family fortune through the department stores in
Connecticut that his wife had forced him to sell..
Although Moses would lead others to believe that he was an only child, he in fact
had both a younger sister and an older brother. The sister seems to fear Robert and do any
thing that he wanted. During his mother s last days he used his sister to form a united
front to eliminate the eldest brother from their mother s will. After he used her for his
needs he discards her as he does anyone whose usefulness is over. In latter years he
would never call her and when she would call him he would have little to say and hurry
off the phone. One example of how he treated his sister happens after she had moved to
Florida. She found out that he would be in her area to receive an award. She called him to
ask if he wanted to come by for a visit. He replied the he was very busy and she could
drive out to the airport and see him while he waited in-between planes. By this time the
sister knew where he was coming from and did not go to the airport, Moses probably
His brother is another matter. Paul Moses was the first born of the Moses
children. He was as bright as his brother Robert and as tall and good looking. He could
also could be charming when he wanted to. He was trained as an engineer and was
apparently quite a good one. Even the author of the book was very impressed at his
knowledge of engineering, but he had one fatal flaw: he hatted Robert Moses.
There are many analogies to the Robert Moses story in this book, but the one that
serves the greatest parallel is that of his relationship with Paul. For some reason there
was a falling-out between them, neither would say what. It became a hatred when Robert
forced Paul out of their mothers will; in effect giving the lion s share of the estate to
Robert and Paul nothing. After this fight the great engineer could never get an
engineering job in New York. Robert had scores of engineers on his staff, but his brother
was forced to squeeze out a living as a salesman till the day he died penniless.
His wife provides another analogy to the life of Robert Moses. When they were
first married Mary Moses was the life of the party. She was a vibrant and intelligent
woman of letters. She was the aid to a governor and called The power behind the
governor . As the years passed she became less and less the vibrant woman she once
was. She had become so subservient to her husband that her will was lost. So much so
that one New York socialite worried where to place the Park commissioner s wife
because she hardly ever talked. And here is the parallel. Mary could be used as a
representation of Moses ideals of reform. At first they were strong and he was of a strong
will when it came to the principles of good government. As the years passed and power
began to consume him and the ideals of the reformer took a back seat and some times
they never came along for the ride.
This is only a brief sketch of his relationship to his family. There were many other
situations that the book goes into great detail about. Such as his daughter Jane s cancer
and the psychiatric problems of his wife; and various dalliances that he had with other
woman; and his marriage to one of them (also named Mary, age 49, when he was 77 )
one month after her death in 1966. His wife s obituary sums up his relationship with all
the family in that they all …remain[ed] in the shadow of her husband… (p1116).
Robert Moses was without a doubt a man corrupted by power. At the same time
he left an indelible mark on the city and state that he loved. There is a mass of parkways
and parks that may never have come into existence were it not for him. He preserved
more than he destroyed. Future generations of New Yorkers will be able to enjoy the
fruits of his labors for generations to come, but at what price?