This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Published in 1974, The Power Broker traced Moses’s journey from idealistic reformer to rapacious autocrat. In fifty chapters that totaled more than twelve hundred pages, Caro showed his readers the many achievements of Robert Moses, but also the dark side of his record. In building his expressways, for instance, Moses evicted 250,000 people, a process that, in Caro’s vivid description, destroyed entire neighborhoods and left deep scars on those who were uprooted. Some of the finest pages in The Power Broker contain the firsthand reminiscences of ordinary people crushed by Moses’s ambition. The Power Broker contained sprightly vignettes of numerous individuals, but Caro managed to achieve something even more difficult: he took matters like bond issues, municipal legislation, machine politics, and highway construction, and brought them vividly to life.
For a work that was published in 1974, The Power Broker is very much alive. It has been used in hundreds of colleges, and Cards younger colleagues speak of it with awe. Michael Tomasky, political columnist for New York magazine, considers it “a huge journalistic landmark and model.” “Each chapter was like a short story,” recalls Wayne Barrett, a reporter and editor for The Village Voice. With The Power Broker, which has sold 200,000 copies, Caro did the hardest thing a writer can do: he produced a book that endures, a book that stands in the tradition of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida Tarbell.
A striking feature of The Power Broker, which resulted from 522 interviews, was the staggering amount of research that went into it, a fact that is true for all of Caro’s books, including Master of the Senate. If the books are remarkable in that respect, it is largely because Caro has a secret weapon his wife, Ina Caro, who works as his fulltime researcher. All of his books are dedicated to her, and the inscription for The Path to Power contained an additional line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “More is thy due than more than all can pay.”
“Bob is really quite incredible,” Ina Caro said one recent afternoon in their spacious, immaculate apartment overlooking Central Park. A handsome woman in her sixties, with short dark hair, she is witty and imperious, and more articulate than her husband. Reflecting on the way in which Caro has fused scholarship and investigative reporting in his books, she affirms: “He combines them both beautifully, which is really the reason it takes so long,’ How long would it take without her? “It would take an awful lot longer,” she replies, a trace of satisfaction in her voice.
From the start, she was his anchor. Cards advance for The Power Broker was minuscule, so while he worked on the book, she got a job as a substitute teacher to support the family. (They have a grown son, who graduated from Princeton and is now a lawyer.) A historian in her own right—she has a graduate degree in medieval history—she performed thousands of hours of research on The Power Broker, and then typed the two-thousand page manuscript—twice. But the fall range of her talents would not become fully apparent until she and Caro moved to the Texas Hill country in the late 1970s to research the boyhood of Lyndon Johnson; they stayed for three years.