Wrestling with Moses by Anthony Flint

July 30, 2009
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Wrestling with Moses
Anthony Flint

Random House
7-30-09
Hardcover/272 pages
ISBN: 978-1400066742
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www.amazon.com

 

". . . deftly mixes fact with a creative use of color and character . . ."

Wrestling with Moses: The birth of the grass roots movements.

In a world obsessed with change and a hunger for razing the old to make room for the featureless new, Robert Moses found that working outside the political arena was not only lucrative but made him powerful. One by one, he razed areas to create the parks and public swimming pools of New York, adopting the strategy that no one will stop you once you’ve driven the first stake. That is, at least until Moses decided to raze Washington Square Park and came face to face with a nearby resident, Jane Jacobs, and the government. Then he had to deal with the people whose lives his plans would impact the most.

In our modern day world, it is difficult to imagine a time when people didn’t get up and fight city hall, but Jane Jacobs was in the forefront of grass roots movements. With only a high school education and a desire to be a journalist, Jane Jacobs used her secretarial skills and boundless curiosity and drive to work her way into some of the most prestigious magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. She used her hard won skills to investigate and help organize Greenwich Village residents near Washington Square Park. They kept it from being destroyed by developers determined to build a road directly through the arch erected as a monument to George Washington, destroying the neighborhood park where Jane’s children played. That first step took her on a journey that pitted the power of the people against the government machine and Robert Moses that forever changed the future of New York City, and indeed the reset of the country.

It is hard to look back at those times when people rediscovered the power to change government, but Anthony Flint does an admirable job of recreating the excitement and flavor of the past in Wrestling with Moses. Flint’s respect and fondness for Jane Jacobs is obvious in the way he presents the story, but so is his fairness in dealing with Robert Moses. He doesn’t paint Jacobs with glowing praise that renders her saint-like, and he resists the urge to paint Moses in deepest black.

Jacobs’ prickliness when confronted with her growing fame and Moses’s drive to succeed at all costs, out of a feeling of having been marginalized, are front and center in this seminal work on a turbulent and stirring time in our nation’s past. Flint does not bow to sentiment nor does he render his story colorless with dry facts and figures. Instead, he deftly mixes fact with a creative use of color and character that brings Jacobs, Moses and the small boroughs and communities of New York City vibrantly to life.

 

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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