The economics of Robert Caro

by on April 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm in Books, History | Permalink

The two Bobs, Gottlieb and Caro, have an odd editorial relationship, almost as contentious as it is mutually admiring. They still debate, for example, or pretend to, how many words Gott­lieb cut from “The Power Broker.” It was 350,000 — or the equivalent of two or three full-size books — and Caro still regrets nearly every one. “There were things cut out of ‘The Power Broker’ that should not have been cut out,” he said to me sadly one day, showing me his personal copy of the book, dog-eared and broken-backed, filled with underlining and corrections written in between the lines. Caro is a little like Balzac, who kept fussing over his books even after they were published.

Can they not publish a “Director’s Cut” eBook?  The Power Broker, by the way, is in my view one of the best non-fiction books ever, so read it if you don’t already know it.

The article, from the NYT Sunday Magazine, is interesting throughout.  Note I have provided the “Single Page” link, I believe this helps you get through your quota of ten clicks at less expense.

1 anne April 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Um, I was assigned Power Broker in 2001 as summer reading to enter Columbia University’s school of journalism. When we all convened to start the year, the professors asked us who had actually read it. I may have been the only one of a class of hundreds. It was very interesting, well documented, but so exhaustive as to be exhausting. For Caro to think that more should have been added is so absurd as to enter the realm of the surreal.

2 anne April 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Forgot to add: The faculty response? Laughter – they said no one ever read the whole thing.

3 Michael G Heller April 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Don’t all academics fuss over their books for ever after?

4 Ryan Cooper April 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I agree, I read it on the recommendation of Kevin Drum and loved it. Best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I also had the same question. More Power Broker? Where do I sign??

I’m thinking about starting his Johnson books; I’ve heard they aren’t quite as good but still very much worth reading. Is that true?

5 RM April 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Would we have seen the brilliance of Caro if he took an online degree in English? I guess the response would be online degrees are for that segment of the population that cannot go to traditional college. But note why Caro chose Princeton over Harvard: Princeton was supposed to be a more party school.

And would Caro would have learned the soft skills of how to overcome discrimination at

6 CSF April 15, 2012 at 3:19 pm

The Power Broker is a great read and biography, but not a good guide to urban studies. For one, Caro ascribes all sorts of changes in NYC to Moses that were happening independently elsewhere in the country at the same time. For another, Caro’s constructions turned out to be key parts of what makes NYC still work even today.

7 James Grimmelmann April 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm

There are — with only a little exaggeration — only two kinds of readers of The Power Broker. There are those who haven’t made it more than 100 pages in, and there are those who have devoured the whole thing. Once Moses goes to Albany, the book acquires its own, epic momentum. The writing can be a bit more than necessary: the book is 1200 pages long, and probably only really needed to be about 1150, or maybe 1175. I would gladly sign on to read the deleted portions–except that, given Caro’s writing process, he wouldn’t be satisfied to release them unless he gave them the same care he lavishes on each page that makes it into print.

8 Morgan Warstler April 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Just remove the “?gwh=numbers” at the end on NYT article urls when you run into the paywall

that’s “?gwh=numbers”

delete that and hit return

9 anon. April 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Or press “stop” before it has finished loading.

Or delete your cookies. Tell your browser to do this on startup.

10 AngryKrugman April 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Although I love both, I think [i]Master of the Senate[/i] better. Caro hates Moses and what he did to NYC. LBJ creates a more complex picture, though. Bad guy that did many good things.

11 Ed April 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I’ve not attempted to read the “Power Broker”, but I’ve read much of Caro’s work on LBJ. He seems to follow the kitchen sink school of biography, anything and everything that he has researched on his subject is thrown in, whether its pertinent to the main theme or the reader cares or not.

His overall assessment of his subjects seem to lack perspective, but its hard to tell because I think most potential critics are bludgeoned into submission by the sheer amount of facts thrown at them. So the vote stealing and petty corruption of LBJ is endlessly documented, but its hard to catch on that every politician in Texas was doing the exact same thing, the place wasn’t exactly a model democracy. What is interesting about Johnson is the extent to which he wasn’t a typical corrupt Texas politician. Likewise, Moses built alot of highways in and around New York City, destroying some poorer neighborhoods in the process, as did every other urban planner in every other city post-World War II. What is interesting to me about the postwar development of New York is that it could have been alot worse, the pre-auto urban fabric survived there to a much greater extent than other places.

I don’t think the problems with his books is that they are too short.

12 Donald Pretari April 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm

There are also Heroes in the Moses & LBJ books, as I recall, being Al Smith & Sam Rayburn.

13 Ted Craig April 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm
14 Thomas April 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm

One could read an unlimited number of articles from Chrome incognito windows.

15 Piros April 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

Yes, I have never read the Power Broker, but his weird affection for the truly horrible Coke Stevenson was bizarre, he has an unreasonable vendetta against LBJ. And Isay that as a pretty conservative native Texan.

16 dnb April 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

Before I started the public administration program I was told to read The Power Broker for information about public administration. I got through a couple hundred pages and stopped it was just too many details. And I’m still not sure why this book was suggested seems to show more corruption than anything else.

17 gp April 16, 2012 at 10:23 am

Started Caro’s LBJ books last month and am ready for the new volume. Caro uses detail to create the immersion effect of long fiction. Highly recommended.

18 Jon April 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

In addition to a “directors cut” ebook, it would be good if someone would publish an ebook of the power broker at all. It’s a strange omission from the catalogue

Was part of the cut material the battle between Moses and Jane Jacobs? That is a major omission in an otherwise comprehensive book.

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