Ever since it was published in 1974, the Power Broker, Robert Caro’s best-selling biography of Robert Moses, has cast a shadow over New York’s urban historians. But 1998’s centennial of the city’s charter presented an unusual tie-in that might have boosted their work into contention with Caro’s. If only they had met their deadlines. “It would be nice if this thing were here now,” admits Mike Wallace, a professor at John Jay College, referring to Gotham: A History of New York City, which he and his co-author now hope to finish by the fall. His publisher at Oxford University Press can’t conceal her impatience: “We’ve got Mike’s nose to the grindstone,” she says.
Daniel Czitrom, a professor at Mount Holyoke College, hasn’t been able to get his Mysteries of the City: Politics, Cultureand the Underworld in Turn-of-the Century New York finished, either. “I confess to being delayed by several things, like having my second kid,” says Czitrom. And Ric Burns, whose ten-hour documentary was to air on PBS this fall, won’t be ready until 1999.
All of which leaves The Power Broker, with a little helpful “re-promotion” from Random House, more powerful than ever. “I walked into a party the other night, and I realized this group of six people were all reading it,” says Caro. “It’s just like it was a new book. It’s been very satisfying.”