CARO, Robert (b. 1935). The Power Broker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. 8°. Illustrated. Original black cloth stamped in gilt; dust-jacket.
FIRST EDITION, signed three times: ("Robert A. Caro"), on the half-title and title-page; and ("B.") on the Dedication to his wife Ina, and extensively annotated throughout. SOME 900-WORDS IN CARO'S HAND, reflecting on the long, arduous process of creating what has proven to be not just a great biography but perhaps the greatest history of New York City in the twentieth century. Caro was initially reluctant to revisit this book: "I had not opened The Power Broker for forty years since it came out," he told us. "I could not bear to re-read it." In addition to the aversion that many authors have to reading their past selves, he had good reason for keeping this door to the past shut. In his first annotation he evokes grim memories of being "broke, people afraid to talk to me about Moses." And after going through his advance money and still finding himself several years from completion, his wife Ina agreed to sell "the house she loved, so I could keep going."
But revisiting the book dispelled these anxieties and became "a very moving experience." Over the course of his annotations we see him shedding the bad personal memories and, in a sense, rediscovering the meaning of his own work. The Power Broker was the first installment for what became Caro's life-long project: the study of political power, specifically how men like Robert Moses and Lyndon Baines Johnson gathered power into their hands--wresting it away from the voting public--to run roughshod over inconveniences like elections, popular will, democracy. While most biographers of major historical figures tend to stick to praising the Great Man and his wondrous accomplishments, Caro gave voice to the story's losers, to the small Long Island farmers whose lands were seized to make way for an expressway; or to the residents of the Tremont section of The Bronx--"animals" to Moses--whose homes and community were destroyed by the Cross-Bronx Expressway. In an annotation on page 303, he asks himself: "When did I decide that in order to write about power truly, it was necessary to write about the powerless as well as the powerful?"
Here, in his annotations, he recalls those people, their moving and generous interviews with him and his wife. In a long note on page 894 he laments a long section that was cut from the original manuscript (which weighed in at 1,050,000 words!) about the lives of the Tremont residents after their displacement and scattering: "'lonely' was the word I kept hearing." He extensively annotates the footnotes and index to praise important sources that helped him with key material. And on the final page of the book he explains how the last line was the key to the whole work. A moving and powerful commentary on this masterpiece of historical literature.