The Power Broker: Summary & Review

the power broker book cover

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1975) is the biography of Robert Moses and how he acquired, amassed, and maintained power while delivering record-beating public works in terms of sheer size, scope and number, shaping New York as we know it (for better and for worse).


Exec Summary

  • Moses Machiavellianism and expertise in writing laws allowed him to navigate and manipulate the inner workings of state government to create and lead numerous semi-autonomous public authorities
  • Moses eventually acquired the power to issue bonds, directly control millions of dollars in revenue, and fund new ventures as he wished, with little outside input or oversight
  • Work hard, get things done, and the powers that be will turn a blind eye to your methods and personal gains
  • Use your public work to gain a reputation as a “fighter for the people” and use that as a political tool and weapon
  • Develop an army of supporters by letting money and favors flow to them
    • Negate any benefit and seek to make anyone who opposes you pay so that few people will want to oppose you
  • Gain control over your own sources of income so that you can grow independent of political power


About the Author:
Robert Allan Caro is an American journalist and author, also known for his thorough work on the biographies of political figures such as Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Never Let Power Movers Do Anything For You

Says someone who knew Moses well:

My experience with Moses has taught me one lesson, and I’ll tell it to you. I would never let him do anything for me in any way, shape or form. I’d never ask him—or permit him—to do anything of a personal nature for me because—and I’ve seen it time and time again—a day will come when Bob will reach back in his file and throw this in your face, quietly if that will make you go along with him, publicly otherwise. And if he has to, he will destroy you with it.”

Never Forget Personal Slights – Let People Know Enemies Pay

The fear in which Moses was held because of these factors was intensified by his memory. Cross him once, politicians said, and he would never forget. And if he ever got the chance for revenge, no consideration would dilute his venom.

For example

For a twenty-year period that did not end until 1968, Moses was given by the State Department of Public Works a secret veto power over the awarding of all state contracts for public works in the New York metropolitan area. No engineer who had ever forcefully and openly disagreed with a Moses opinion ever received even one of the thousands of contracts involved.

And you can also use this technique for sweet revenge, or for making people pay for the disempowering power moves:

Recalls Assistant Corporation Counsel Chanler, who handled the case for Moses and drew up the final stipulation: “I spoke to Moses about it. He said they had to be evicted at once. I said, ‘Why?’
“He said, ‘Because they were rude to me.’ “

Let People Know There’s Heavy Price To Stand In Your Way, And They’ll Let You Free To Do As You Please

“He was terribly unfair to people,” McGoldrick says. But, the Comptroller admits, the attacks served their purpose. Moses’ methods “did intimidate people from debating with him. And it intimidated us, too, most likely.” Soon, in the whole city government, from bureaucracy to Board of Estimate to mayor, there was no one to stand in the way of his dream, no one who would dare to tell the public the truth about the methods that were being used to make it come true, no one who would venture to examine—or to proclaim—its flaws.

However, power that rests on fear only is severely handicapped.

You also need friends and allies -or even simply people who support you for what’s in it for them-.
So to maintain support always make sure to give others what they want:

Do Great Work, Become Indispensable, Let Those Above You Bask In The Credit

Moses got things done more than anyone else.

And in democracy where public work mean votes, that gave Moses a lot of power:

The Governor who finds a man who can inject into the democracy-public works equation a factor of personality so heavy as to unbalance it and get public works built during the span of a single term of office has little choice, if he is ambitious for political success, but to heap on that man more and more responsibilities, even though the giving of responsibilities carries with it the grant of more power.

Moses’ forceful approach against those who stood in the way of his projects also made him a convenient lightning rod for politicians: Moses would pass to the upper politicians some of the acclaim, while also taking the blame for the few who were not happy with the projects.

But Make Sure To Give Value To Your Supporters

Anyone, including the biggest tyrant of tyrants, needs supporters.

So make sure you have plenty of value to give to keep your friends closer and supportive:

“He gave everybody involved in the political setup in this city whatever it was that they wanted,” one official recalls. “Therefore they all had their own interest in seeing him succeed. The pressure that this interest all added up to was a pressure that no one in the system could stand up against, because it came from the system itself.”

Control As Many Resources As You Can

Increasing resources is a virtuous cycle.

Not only you have more for yourself, but you have more to give to your supporters.
And the more supporters you can win to your side, the more power you can get.

Corruption before Moses had been unorganized, based on a multitude of selfish, private ends. Moses’ genius for organizing it and focusing it at a central source gave it a new force, a force so powerful that it bent the entire city government off the democratic bias.

Give, But Get In Return & Only Keep Giving To Those Who Give Back

Moses’ fees did not come without strings. He was buying men’s influence, and for each dollar he spent he made sure he received full value.

But never demand outright, it’s crass, illegal, and most people understand the game anyway:

The price was not demanded outright. Moses did not directly ask a recipient of one of his fees to return the favor by voting in the Legislature or the City Council for one of his proposals or by persuading legislators or councilmen to vote for the proposal. He did not ask a recipient directly for support of any kind. Asking would have placed both men in violation of the law and of various codes of ethics.

Punish Those Who Don’t Give Back

Moses’ view of his social exchanges was that people were either “on his team”, or outside of it, and against him.
And the punishment was to be left out of the lucrative inner circle.
Plus, some extra punishment if Moses could afford:

If you tried, even occasionally, not to cooperate, if you dropped off “the team,” if—ever—you exercised your responsibility to the public rather than your responsibility to Robert Moses, you were out in the cold until you died. There would be no consulting jobs, no authority make-work—and, if the rumors were true, when the State Retirement Board met to certify your pension, it would somehow turn out to be less, far less, than you had believed you were entitled to.

Gain Intel From Potential Enemies: Plant Spies Around Them

Moses, who served longer than most politicians, could build a base that most politicians couldn’t.

He had on payroll the secretaries of those same politicians, and used it to the best of his ability:

He had taken measures to minimize the threat to his purposes posed by key officials who were not Moses Men: some of these officials would have been astonished to learn—most of them never did—that their secretaries were on Moses’ payroll as well as the state’s, and that in transcribing confidential memoranda and minutes of secret meetings devoted to blocking a Moses project or to curbing Moses’ power, these secretaries made an extra carbon, which was delivered nightly to Moses’ representatives in Albany.

Always Start Charming, Only Switch To Aggressive If Needed

But the charm could vanish swiftly. He joked and laughed with the farmers, but when one made clear that he would not sell his land, Moses could change in an instant to quite a different approach.

For example:

He introduced himself as Tm Robert Moses, representing the State of New York. We’re going to put a parkway through this section of Long Island.’ He was very polite, very diplomatic, at first. But when he saw my father wasn’t going to sell, he stood up in our kitchen and he said: ‘You know, Mr. Rasweiler, the state is all-supreme when it comes to a condemnation proceeding. If we want your land, we can take it.’


Mr. Moses told me personally that his power was such that he could seize my house, put me out of it and arrest me for trespassing if I tried to get into it again (…) Mr. Moses told me that he was able to control the press of New York City, so as to hold me up to such obloquy that I would not be able to stand it

Move Fast, And It Will Always Be Too Late To Stop You (Fait Accompli)

A common tactic of Moses was that of moving as fast as he could.

Then, once someone went from simple objection to escalating the matter, it was too late.
This tactic worked great for a man who worked in the public sector where the time for approvals and decision-making tend to be particularly slow.

But Moses also used in case of court proceedings.

For example:

Moses had never stopped developing the Taylor Estate—as if its acquisition were a fait accompli. By the spring of 1927, he had laid concrete for access roads and parking fields, set out scores of stone fireplaces and picnic tables, erected wooden bathhouses with showers and lockers and finished renovating the mansion and outbuildings, at a total cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. During the summer of 1927, it had hundreds of thousands of visitors. By the time the higher courts came to rule on the question of whether the Taylor Estate was a park, it was a park.

Destroy What Obstructionists Want To Protect, And They’ll Have No Reason To Fight

For example, when people wanted to prevent Moses to cut through a park to preserve trees, he cut the trees.

What a power move:

They appealed to the Board of Estimate to stop the Park Commissioner from chopping down the trees (…) Then they demanded that Moses hold a public hearing on his plans, and threatened to file a taxpayers’ suit to obtain an injunction if he did not agree to hold one. Moses agreed. He set a date two weeks away. And then, during those two weeks, he cut down hundreds of trees for the right-of-way. “He knew how to handle them,” Madigan would laugh years later, recalling the reformers’ shock when they realized that the park they had wanted so much to save had been ruined. Moses himself regarded his move as a masterstroke; he devoted space in his memoirs to relating how his men invented “a new ingenious tree-pulling device equipped with a sort of electric donkey engine” that cut down trees even faster than he had hoped.

In some cases, I agree this is genius to avoid that some small special interest groups damage larger communities.
For example, in Italy, there have been bears re-introduced in parks. However, it’s too many and too close to cities and it turned out dangerous for people.
One runner died in a bear attack :S. But nobody can do much about it because the noisy minority of animalists always make it impossible to put down bears.

In that case, it could be a good act of civility to get rid of the most dangerous bears before any legal proceeding.

Manipulate The Press: Go First, Set The Initial Frame

When something is bound to surface, be the first to break the news.

And make sure it’s framed in a way that benefits you.

For example:

Anticipating that the matter would become public knowledge, Moses went to the press—and he did so with his usual blend of demagoguery and deception: breaking the story himself to get his side of it before the public first; oversimplifying the basic issue to one of public vs. private interest; identifying the “private interests” with the sinister forces of “influence” and “privilege”; concealing any facts that might damage his own image. “The whole question,” he said, “is whether public interest is going to yield to private,” whether parks are going to be “for the people.” The public needed the land occupied by the yacht club and it needed it immediately so that a great public improvement could be gotten under way, he said

Weaponize Press and Releases

Having the ear of the press or of anyone with enough broacasting power is leverage that you can use.

Public press releases from a man like Moses with a reputation for being above politics and only serving the public’s interest were all the more powerful to use it as leverage with politicians:

He had so much potential for trouble because of the many directorships he had. And the main threat he had was [to issue press releases]. He could always cause you so much trouble by calling you ‘a dirty politician’—he was above politics, of course . . . Governors were always nervous about this. You knew that if he said something, the newspapers would pick it up big.”

Weaponize Attention

Moses disciplined Harriman not only by using publicity but by withholding it: by not inviting the Governor to speak at ground breakings and ribbon cuttings. In 1957, for example, Moses staged a day-long series of ribbon cuttings to celebrate the completion (…) The Democratic Governor, who had authorized the projects and provided the funds for them, didn’t even know the ceremonies were being held until he read newspaper stories about them —stories and pictures of Moses and the other official participants, all Republicans.

Weaponize The Public Opinion To Bend Others To Your Will

Moses managed to develop a reputation as a “no-nonsense doer” and to endear himself to public opinion.

He was also skilled at publicly attacking his opponents, for example framing them as “selfish politicians” or as “rich rubber barons who steal from the people”.

In the political arena he moved in, public opinion was king, so that gave him huge power.

However, everyone cares about their reputation, so he was able to use public opinion as leverage against judges.

For example:

What was a judge to do? Tell the state to tear up the roads and tear down the buildings, to destroy what hundreds of thousands of dollars of the public’s money had been spent to build? Tell the people who had visited the Taylor Estate that they could visit it no more? In theory, of course, judges should not be influenced by such considerations. But judges are human. And their susceptibility to such considerations was undoubtedly increased by Moses’ willingness to attack publicly those of them who ruled against him

Gain A Reputation For Being A Selfless Worker & Value Giver “For The People”

Moses both enjoyed the image of behing above money and politics, and actively promoted for power and personal status and gains.

For example, he never accepted any salary for his work, and made sure that people knew so:

The image was of the totally unselfish and altruistic public servant who wanted nothing for himself but the chance to serve.
A key element in it was his disdain for money—a disdain which he made certain was well publicized and which was symbolized by his refusal to accept a salary for his services.
Authority officials were traditionally unsalaried (the tradition had begun in England, where it had been believed that authorities would get better officials —men above polities—if they were not paid), and Moses had eagerly followed the tradition with his authorities—and had made certain that the public knew he was serving as authority chairman “without compensation.”
The image was of the fearless independent above politics. The public believed authorities—entities outside the normal governmental setup, entities whose members were unsalaried and appointed to terms long enough in theory to insure their independence from politicians—to be “nonpolitical.”

Get The Project Started With Lower Estimates, & You Trapped The Bosses To Keep Funding It

Another common Moses’ tactic was to lie about the cost of a project and provide much smaller estimates.

Then, once the project started, politicians faced large pressure to keep funding it because half-unfinished work would look terrible for them.

Quoting The Power Broker:

But what if you didn’t tell the officials how much the projects would cost? What if you let the legislators know about only a fraction of what you knew would be the projects’ ultimate expense?
Once they had authorized that small initial expenditure and you had spent it, they would not be able to avoid giving you the rest when you asked for it. How could they? If they refused to give you the rest of the money, what they had given you would be wasted, and that would make them look bad in the eyes of the public. And if they said you had misled them, well, they were not supposed to be misled. If they had been misled, that would mean that they hadn’t investigated the projects thoroughly, and had therefore been derelict in their own duty.

Don’t Shy Away From Nasty Power Moves

For example:

Reply As If Someone Attacked You Even When They’ve Been Nothing But Polite

That way, you create a new reality.

People who only read or hear your reply will naturally jump to the conclusion that you have been unfairly attacked.

For example:

Lutz did not reply. But Moses did. The first sentence of his letter to Wilcox was: “I will pass over without extended comment the unpleasant tone of your letter. I presume that you have become so accustomed to addressing people in this way that you are hardly aware of its effect on others.” He was writing, Moses said, to defend Lutz from Wilcox’s attacks.
An astounded Wilcox realized that Moses had sent a copy of his, Moses’, letter to the seventy-two other regional commissioners without sending them a copy of Wilcox’s letter—and therefore the commissioners could have no way of knowing that Wilcox’s letter had not in fact been unpleasant, and they could not know the events that had led up to it.

Become A High Value, And A Great Leader

Now we go back to the basics.

Power isn’t just strategies, techniques, or Machiavellianism.

Power starts from you, and your personal qualities, including high-power behavior, dominance, charisma, charm, and prestige.

Moses was a high value man.

Says one of his reports:

“Mr. Moses was no lawyer, but he had a great knowledge and grasp of the law,” Junkamen would say. “He was not an engineer, but he had a great knowledge of engineering. He knew politics, he knew statesmanship— he was an altogether brilliant man. If you were working with him, you just had to learn from him—if only through osmosis.” One of the commission’s engineers rhapsodizes: “I don’t think there was a man who came into daily contact with him who wasn’t inspired to do better work than he had thought he was capable of doing.”

And he could come across as high-quality, too, and as a great leader.

Says another of his reports:

“He had a gift for leading men,” Shapiro recalls. “Those men idolized him. You’d see him walk up to a pickax gang that was tired and talk to them awhile and when he walked away, you could see those pickaxes swing faster.”

Use Higher Ideals & Judge Rewards

And the most valued reward—the thread that bound his men most closely to him—was still more intangible. “We were caught up in his sense of purpose,” Latham explained. “He made you feel that what we were doing together was tremendously important for the public, for the welfare of people.”

Work Hard

You cannot accomplish great things, without great work.

So you must work long enough, over a long enough time, and with dedication and concentration.

Moses even went monk mode for most his life:

Moses had always possessed tremendous energy and the ability to discipline it. Now he disciplined it as never before, concentrated it, focused it on his work with a ferocious single-mindedness.
Sloughing off distractions, he set his life into a hard mold. Shunning evening social life, especially the ceremonial dinners that eat up so much of a public official’s time, he went to bed early (usually before eleven) and awoke early (he was always dressed, shaved and breakfasted when Arthur Howland arrived at 7:30 to pick up the manila envelope full of memos).
The amenities of life dropped out of his.

Read more on monk mode:

Monk Mode Changed My Life (Here’s How)

Set High Expectations & Reward Star Performers

  • Once they had proven themselves to him, Moses took pains with their training.
  • Incredibly hard-working, incredibly loyal—dedicated, faceless, Moses’ men were recognized by public officials as an elite cadre within the ranks of the state’s civil servants and had already been given the name “Moses Men.”
  • They therefore had considerable power of their own, and this was incentive to those of them who wanted power.
  • In rewarding his men financially, Moses was hampered by civil service limits on pay and promotion schedules, but his ingenuity found a hundred ways around those strictures. If a man wasn’t making what Moses thought he should be, he would put the man’s wife on the payroll in some job that required no work—such as answering the telephone in their home—and pay her an additional stipend.

Respect Other High Power People & Seek Collaboration

Moses was playing by the rules of power now and one of the first of those rules is that when power meets greater power, it does not oppose but attempts to compromise.

Take From The Powerless To Stay Friendly With The High Power

Robert Moses had shifted the parkway south of Otto Kahn’s estate, south of Winthrop’s and Mills’s estates, south of Stimson’s and De Forest’s. For men of wealth and influence, he had moved it more than three miles south of its original location. But James Roth possessed neither money nor influence.
And for James Roth, Robert Moses would not move the parkway south even one tenth of a mile farther. For James Roth, Robert Moses would not move the parkway one foot. Robert Moses had offered men of wealth and influence bridges across the parkway so that there would be no interference with their pleasures.
But he wouldn’t offer James Roth a bridge so that there would be no interference with his planting.For James Roth, Robert Moses would not move the parkway one foot.
Robert Moses had offered men of wealth and influence bridges across the parkway so that there would be no interference with their pleasures. But he wouldn’t offer James Roth a bridge so that there would be no interference with his planting.

Use Mobbing to Get Rid of Enemies & Appoint Loyalists

Headquarters employees were protected by civil service, but it didn’t help them much.
Men who lived in the Bronx were told they had to work in Staten Island, and who lived in Staten Island were assigned to the Bronx. Or they were given tasks so disagreeable they couldn’t stop them.

The same can be done for poor workers, of course, so you only keep loyalists, who are also great employees.

Get Physically Aggressive To Make People Fear You

And the bullying was not just verbal. City Hall was whispering about Moses’ physical encounters with other men.

But Only Physically Bully Those Smaller Than You

as in the case of scrawny little “Slat” Johnson, the roommate he knocked down at Yale, neither of them was his physical equal. Raymond Torrey, whom he tried to strangle at a State Council of Parks meeting and at whom he then hurled a heavy smoking stand, was a pudgy little bird watcher. Moses had also staged a fist fight with WPA administrator Hugh Johnson in Bernard Baruch’s apartment, and Johnson, at the time, was fifty-two—eight years older than Moses—and exceedingly drunk. Now Moses had additional physical encounters—and the pattern continued.
Other City Hall observers recall other Moses fist fights but not one with a man to whom he had a chance of losing.
Stanley Isaacs had the courage to give the thoughts voice. He said mildly: “When Mr. Moses says something will cost 3.4 percent, he adds the .4 only to make you think it’s accurate. It’s really 6.2 percent.” Moses’ response was to take a violent swing with his fist in Isaacs’ direction and say, “I’d like to punch you in the nose!”
(“He wasn’t close enough to hit him with a baseball bat,” says Isaacs’ borough works commissioner, Walter D. Binger. “It was just a motion of passion. But Moses was tall and athletic” and the mild-mannered Isaacs was fifty-seven years old. “Everyone in the room was shocked,” Binger says.

Hide Your Power Move In A Contract, Let Them Sign It, And Enjoy Legal Power Over Them

This was the “masterstroke” that gave Moses total control, independently of mayors and politicians.

(…) but long, legalistic pages later, buried deep within the act, in a subdivision of Section Nine, a subdivision and a section that ostensibly had nothing to do with “Existence,” there was a new sentence:
The authority shall have power from time to time to refund any bonds by the issuance of new bonds, whether the bonds to be refunded have or have not matured, and may issue bonds partly to refund bonds then outstanding and partly for any other corporate purpose.
“He had figured out a gimmick/’ says Reuben A. Lazarus, drafter of the original Triborough Act and himself a master of the gimmick
“That sentence looked so innocuous. But it changed my whole act completely. With that sentence in there, he had power to issue forty-year bonds and every thirty-nine years he could call them in and issue new bonds, for another forty years. La Guardia had thought that authorities . . . would be temporary creations that would build something and then turn it over to the city and go out of existence as soon as it was paid off. But with that gimmick in there, it would never be paid off.”

After the law passed, Moses also didn’t need to be a politicain himself. He was interested in money and power, and he no longer needed elective office to obtain those prizes.
Not only he didn’t need political power or backing, but he also didn’t need public opinion anymore.

Bonus Points: Display Your New Power With Power

Was also funny to read when the mayor found out about the new power that he himself, unwittingly, granted Moses.

The mayor sent Moses a long letter to enforce boundaries and stop Moses.
And Moses simply replied “I think you had better read the agreements and contracts” :D.

Writes Robert Caro:

As poor Trubee Davison had done years before, Fiorello La Guardia sat down, too late, to study documents drawn up by Robert Moses which he had approved because he had relied on Moses’ word as to what was in them. Then he called in his legal advisers to read them.
“Well, that was the day of the great awakening,” recalls Windels

Be Open To Criticism, Don’t Build An Army of Yes-Men

When things started going real bad for Moses, his entourage of yes-men and his attitude of bending everyone to his will only made things worse.

He wasn’t able to get good idea, and wasn’t even able to get reliable information:

Moses appears not to have known its full extent himself. Certainly his aides, having seen what happened to Spargo and Witt, were not going out of their way to tell him about it. “You’ve got to remember,” says one city official, “that everyone out there was scared to death. Moses made all those people and he can destroy them. He doesn’t want to hear that his Fair is going badly. He’s always regarded criticism, however constructive or well meant, as a personal attack.
All he wants to hear is, ‘Yes, RM.’ The result was that his own people allowed him to live for months in a fool’s paradise.”
It had to end, however.

Never Turn Into A Full Ass*hole / Sociopath: It’ll Cost You

Power is being able to ruin people, to ruin their careers and their reputations and their personal relationships. Moses had this power, and he seemed to use it even when there was no need to, going out of his way to use it, so that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he enjoyed using it.

And while Moses did achieve power and “personal success” that tendency to over-punish and antagonize cost him heavily.
Including ruining his name and reputation for generations to come (as this same review proves).

Says Caro towards the end of the book:

The last surviving portion of the Moses image was destroyed. No one had ever said he was personally interested in money. Now they had. Of the image of Robert Moses, that had stood glittering and pure for thirty years, there was now not a single part left untarnished.
He became an object of derision, almost of scorn, to the reporters he had derided and scorned for so long.

the power broker book cover


Idealists May Have To Compromise To Acquire Power

Bob Moses had changed from an uncompromising idealist to a man willing to deal with practical considerations
He was openly scornful of reformers whose first concern was accuracy, who were willing to devote their lives to fighting for principle and who wanted to make that fight without compromise or surrender of any part of the ideals with which they had started it.
Bob Moses was scornful, in short, of what he had been.

Let Your Wife Handle All Home-Related Stuff So You Can Focus On The Mission

Robert Moses’ wife was the person who may have had the most power over him.
However, since she was supportive of him, that worked great for both.
She bought his clothes, took care of what he’d wear, managed the finances -and even slipped him the money under the table to pay for dinners out-.

Don’t Trust People Who Start Out TOO Idealistic

From personal experience and reading history, people who are TOO big idealists with too big ideals of “fairness” and “overturning the system (to replace with their vision)” often end up being the worst despots.

Showcase Your Power While Your Status And Achievements While People Wait For You

Waiting to lunch with Robert Moses, a guest would be ushered at Randall’s Island into an anteroom lined with pictures of Robert Moses’ bridges, Robert Moses’ parks, Robert Moses’ parkways, of Robert Moses posing with Hoover, of Robert Moses posing with Roosevelt, of Robert Moses posing with Truman, with Eisenhower (and, later, with Kennedy and Johnson—and Pope John); at Belmont Lake into an anteroom with walls covered, literally from wall to ceiling, with Robert Moses’ plaques and trophies. There might be a gleaming white scale model or two, of past or future achievements, lying carelessly about. And to insure against the guest’s not being sufficiently reminded of his host’s achievements, as he was being served drinks by a white-coated waiter, he would probably be joined —by design—by one of Moses’ aides who would regale him with anecdotes about RM’s triumphs.

Use Luxurious Hospitality To Win People Over

Hospitality has always been a potent political weapon. Moses used it like a master. Coupled with his overpowering personality, a buffet often did as much for a proposal as a bribe. “Christ, you’d be standing there eating the guy’s food and drinking his liquor and getting ready to go for a ride on his boat, and he’d come up to you and take both your hands in his or put his arm around your shoulders and look into your eye and begin pouring out the arguments in that charming way of his and making you feel like there was no one in the whole world he’d rather be talking to—how could you turn the guy down?” Ingraham knew what it meant when he was invited to a weekend in Babylon or a night at the Marine Theater: “He wanted to plant a story.” To other reporters, too, his hospitality was used as a subtle reward, and its withdrawal as a subtle punishment. Write a story that he liked and you would find yourself on one of his lists—and, even on the “C” list, suddenly the need for paying causeway tolls would disappear and you would be able to bring your wife or girlfriend to lavish parties. Continue the good work and you might make the “B” list—or even the “A.” Cross him once, and you were off all lists.

Make Decisions At Your Social Events or Lunches And You’ll Have More Power To Ratify Whatever You Want

In the setting Moses created at his luncheons, most men allowed themselves to be bullied, even if only by not openly disagreeing with some Moses proposal in the hope that they could disagree later in the friendlier confines of their office—only to find that before they could get out of his, Moses was virtually forcing them to ratify their acquiescence by presenting for their signature the necessary document, which an aide just happened to have with him, or to find out by the time they got back to their own office that Moses had already notified the Mayor or other department heads of their acquiescence (…)
And Moses carefully kept the atmosphere social, even while using it for business ends. He would present a problem and his proposed solution to it, and then call on various of his engineers to present facts and figures supporting his arguments. Then he would say, with an easy, charming smile, “Well, since we’re all agreed about this . . . ,” and move on to the next item. “Well, maybe everyone there didn’t agree,” Orton says. “But in that setting, who could get up and start arguing? This was an exercise of power by assumption or inference. And it was damned effective.” “So much got done at those lunches,” says one of his aides. “He’d have a whole agenda —a whole list of items—and he’d go right through it.

Never Underestimate Older & Experienced Men, Not Even When They’re Going Down

As Moses started to eclipse, younger and more ethical men thought underestimated how easy it could be to dispatch them:

He was still around because he had managed to hold on to power for decades.
These men with their first taste of power laughed at him; he had not only tasted power but held it longer than many of these men had been alive.
Did Lindsay think he had the ability to outsmart Robert Moses? Robert Moses had outsmarted La Guardia. From the very same post from which Lindsay was trying to remove him, a President of the United States, at the peak of his popularity and power, dedicated to his destruction, had tried to remove him—and that President had failed.
These rash young men thought he was only Robert Moses of the World’s Fair and Title I; he was also Robert Moses of (…) This was their first real battle; he came to it scarred with the wounds of a hundred battles—battles he had won.
Lindsay maps plans to slash moses’ power, the headlines read. Moses sat in his lair up on Randall’s Island and grinned—the grin of the old lion.


Robert Moses quoting Machiavelli:

“The important thing is to get things done.” “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” “If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?”

On power as the sweetest dish:

Some men aren’t satisfied unless they have caviar. Moses would have been happy with a ham sandwich—and power.

On Moses and his (narcissistic) drive to emperor-like monuments as testaments of his power:

The roads of Rome stood for two thousand years and more; who would predict less for the roads of Moses? Who would predict less for his Shea Stadium, a structure consciously shaped to resemble Rome’s Colosseum because he was afraid that his convention center-office tower “Coliseum” didn’t make the comparison clear enough?

On Moses enjoying annoying powerless people, who compared him to powerful nasty figures:

The big black car sat at the end of the street unnoticed in the dusk by anyone in the crowd as the effigy was hoisted to a lamppost and set afire. “I didn’t dare look at RM,” Shapiro recalls. But to his surprise, his boss threw back his head and roared with laughter. And when someone suggested they drive away, RM said no. He wanted to stay for a while. He didn’t want to miss a thing. He sat there all through the speeches comparing him to a “dictator,” “a Hitler,” “a Stalin.” And, says Shapiro, “he laughed and laughed. RM really got a kick out of it.”


The full work is very thorough which also means that is very long.
It requires a hefty investment of time to seep through


  • Incredibly thorough
  • Endless golden nuggets


The Power Broker is a very instructive read to understand power dynamics, the psychology of ultra-driven and successful men, and politics in general.

Even from a purely practical point of view, it has endless golden nuggets on power, (social) strategies, and techniques.

Because of its length, it may not be the best time investment for all though.
Plus, it requires a certain level of power awareness to turn the wisdom into possible real-life strategies.

Do we need men like Moses?

It’s an important question.

Does the world need men like Moses?

To avoid getting lost in very abstract elucubrations, we may even narrow that question down to public works as a smaller subset of general societal advancement.
And, in general, it seems that the normal democratic processes may hinder the construction of larger public work, even when those public work would benefit society.

Says the author:

It was not the physical problems that were the most difficult to solve, however, but the political.
A technology for solving the physical problems had been perfected, but not the methods and machinery for the creation of large-scale urban public works in a democratic society; the American system of government almost seemed designed to make such creation as difficult as possible.
It is no coincidence that, as Raymond Moley puts it, “from the pyramids of Egypt, the rebuilding of Rome after Nero’s fire, to the creation of the great medieval cathedrals… all great public works have been somehow associated with autocratic power.”
Whether or not it is true, as Moley claims, that “pure democracy has neither the imagination, nor the energy, nor the disciplined mentality to create major improvements,” it is indisputably true that it is far easier for a totalitarian regime to take the probably unpopular decision to allocate a disproportionate share of its resources to such improvements, far easier for it to mobilize the men necessary to plan and build them;

So, do we need extreme alpha type men like Moses who can cut corners, acquire power, and find ways to get things done, despite all the odds?

Frankly, I think we often need them.
And even when we don’t need them, men like Moses can add a ton of value if they put their power behind worthy goals.
And that is also why this website exists: to give Moes’ skills and mindsets to worthier people.

Check the best books to read or get this book on Amazon.

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