The Autumn Years of Robert Moses

Robert A. Caro is known primarily for his ongoing biography of Lyndon B. Johnson (the fourth book is in the works and Caro has been so thorough, that he’s only just begun work on LBJ’s Presidency). He depicts his subjects with a concern for how their actions influenced the downtrodden and frequently pulls no punches. If Caro isn’t the most honest biographer working today, he’s certainly the most refreshingly combative.

With The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses, Caro made his reputation. In that Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Caro unapologetically laid assault on how developer Robert Moses planned New York City for the automobile, bombarding it with expressways, showing no humanity in mowing down homes and eviscerating neighborhoods, neglecting public transportation, or even purloining his brother’s inheritance.

I was always curious if Moses ever responded to the book. Well, apparently Moses did.

Moses’ defense is composed mostly of rhetroic and, unsurprisingly, condescending of the layman. He rails against the notion of equal time and even singles out poet William Watson. Moses is very much the advocate of unilaterlaism, suggesting at one point that “Critics are ex post facto prophets who can tell how everything should have been done at a time when they were in diapers, in rompers or invisible.” I was definitely invisible when Caro’s book came out. But if criticism after the fact is a crime, then one has to wonder how humanity maintains its cyclical perspective.

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