Weekend Endorsements: The Man Behind the Curtain, This American Life, and Not Rocking the Vote.

quadmoniker: My copy of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York has had a prominent and accusatory place on three different bookshelves in three different apartments for at least five years now. I was supposed to read it before I started graduate school. I did not. It’s more than 1,200 pages in an awkward soft-but-not-scholastic-level-sturdy binding, the pages are broad, the words are small. It’s just not the most physically welcoming book I’ve ever owned. (More than that, I was assigned to read it, ensuring that, had I done so, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.)

Saturday morning I was scheduled to proctor a practice SAT test and I’d finished my most recent book and hadn’t started a new one, so I grabbed The Power Broker on the way out. (I took my New Yorker and another book, just in case I couldn’t do it.)  But I could. Free of the assignment, I was actually able to dive into Robert Caro‘s  definitive biography of the New York City administrator who changed the physical layout of the islands, for better or worse, for about half the last century, and enjoy it. I can’t say I’ll zip through, but this is an unreasonably long book I’ll actually enjoy, unlike other equally weighty recent literary endeavors of mine.
(I’ve been trying to find a record of a story my professor related about Caro, but I can’t. So my recounting will be inaccurate but hopefully still fun. Caro was being interviewed, somewhere, and asked what his next work would be about, once he finished his six-part series on LBJ. Caro, by way of reply, recounted: His book about Moses was about power in the city. The biography of Johnson was about power in the country. There was nowhere to go but to power in the world. What was the subject of his next book? “Napoleon, alas.”
G.D.: On Thursday, I went to a live broadcast of This American Life, a show that I’ve stumped for and shouted out as much as anything that isn’t The Wire. Each week, the show attempts several takes on a given theme, like sudden wealthsuperpowers,  and life on a Navy aircraft carrier (which, as it turns out, is really boring, with lots of illicit sex to pass the time).  The live show — Returning to the Scene of the Crime — was vintage TAL: steeped in an unfussy humanism, very funny and deeply moving.
The shows are all available for free streaming, and a few of the eps have haunted me, and are worth special mention: Harold, about Chicago’s first black mayor; Two Steps Back, which focused on the fragile progress of  a public middle school;  Ruining it For The Rest of Us, which is about people who do exactly that; and Sentencing, as smart a polemic on the ridiculousness of our drug laws as your likely to hear anywhere.
blackink: Over the past couple of days, I have received five e-mails asking me to vote in a MSNBC online poll that will assess a cumulative grade to President Obama over his first 100 days. “Republicans are flooding it with ‘F’ votes,” the e-mails state. I assume the senders want me to give Obama an “A.” But I’m not so inclined. The whole exercise seems silly. In fact, I wish people would allow Republicans or real Americans or whomever to flood the poll with “F” votes. I’d love to tune in to MSNBC next week and see someone like Contessa Brewer soberly report that 85 percent of the voters gave our president a failing grade. And then what? Does that mean McCain gets to move into the White House? Does the South get to secede? Probably not. That’s because the only poll numbers that mattered came in on Nov. 4. So please, don’t rock the vote.


Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • quadmoniker

    You left out “The Giant Pool of Money” and “Bad Bank” on your best-of TAL list. But those are really of a different character. They’re like, best of public radio with a TAL touch. I recommend them to anyone who wants to somewhat understand the economic crisis.

  • Kia

    Quadmoniker, I’ve also got the Moses bio by Caro somewhere in my house. I’m ashamed to say at one point we were using it as a booster seat for my then toddler son. Ken Burns documentary “New York” contains a very insightful Moses segment with interviews with Caro.

    So many fantastic TAL episodes… The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar doesn’t have any weighty/global themes but is one of my favorites.

  • I’ve been meaning to dig into “The Power Broker” for quite awhile, too. I came across Robert Moses and his work during a really good documentary about how and why the Dodgers left Brooklyn. For anyone interested at all in urban planning, he’s pretty much one of the legendary heavyweights.

  • Man, I got that e-mail, too. And i’m not sure who the person is who sent it to me.