5/2/15

Review: Robert Moses - The Master Builder of New York City by Christin and Balez

I recently read Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City written by Pierre Christin with art by Olivier Balez.

The story is how Moses, the son of a Jewish-German family of the Haute-Bourgeoisie (money) who was always an outcast in the WASP Ivy-league schools, struggled to make something that mattered. He meets Mrs. Belle Moskowitz, a social activist, who introduces him to Alfred E Smith, governor of New York state.  Moses brings his zeal for building the future to the administration, and learns from Moskowitz how to lobby and politic to get the projects accomplished.

Through his vision, he builds public beaches, parks, swimming pools and airports for New York City, and the surrounding areas.  Part of his vision, however, includes demolishing the tenements of NYC and replacing them with modern apartment housing. He also plans wide highways and freeways to connect all these modern projects. This vision for growth, replacing the old with a newer better version sets up a conflict that is ultimately his downfall.

The book does an excellent job of setting the tone and history for the different eras. Moses's career ran from the 30s to the 60s, and the art is consistent, but clearly represents the styles of each time.  During his lifetime Moses met and worked with many famous men. His public works took place during five mayors of New York, six state governors, and seven presidents, all represented in the book. There's even an interesting scene with Guy Lombardo, apparently a close friend of Moses.

The one caveat is there's not enough dialogue. I'd like to see more scenes set at a personal level. Still, this may have been a choice by Christin, since Moses seemed to work on a grand scale.

The book's final section casts an interesting light on Moses' accomplishments.  His plans to bulldoze SoHo and Washington Square and replace it with a Lower Manhattan Expressway seems shocking in hindsight, but city administrators found it acceptable. It was only due to grassroots opposition, spearheaded by activist Jane Jacobs, that the project was cancelled.  Moses, the original activist visionary, was blocked by a new era's vision for livable cities.

Bottom line: great art, interesting and well-structure biography on the man known as the "master builder" of mid-20th century New York City and surroundings.

Amazon