Lights. Camera. Makeup. And a Carefully Placed 1,246-Page Book.

Lights. Camera. Makeup. And a Carefully Placed 1,246-Page Book.

It is 46 years old, weighs nearly four pounds in paperback and is about as ill-suited for the internet age as they come: The book is not even available for digital readers.

And yet, in certain circles, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” the 1,246-page tome by Robert Caro, has become a breakout star of the Covid-19 era.

In TV interview after TV interview with journalists and politicians working from their homes in New York City and beyond, “The Power Broker,” Mr. Caro’s magisterial 1974 biography, is often conspicuously visible in the background, its bold red-and-white spine popping out from the screen, the ultimate signifier of New York political sophistication.

Representative Max Rose, a first-term Democrat who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, acknowledged intentionally placing the book stage right of his head.

The book appears behind Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post, and next to the White House reporter for The Associated Press, Jonathan Lemire. On NY1, the cable news network, the book has become a must-have, must-be-seen accessory for several reporters.

Credit…The New York Times

The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed; one anonymous New York journalist has documented some of the sightings with a Twitter feed, @CaroOnRoomRater.

“I think, like a lot of people, I stare at the books in the background of every cable pundit’s shot from home,” said the writer, who asked to remain anonymous so that his name would not be forever associated with the Twitter feed.


The abundance of sightings has also garnered the attention of another New York journalist and author: the 84-year-old biographer himself.

“Watching television during the last few weeks has been quite a stunning and humbling experience for me,” Mr. Caro said, speaking by phone from his writing shack in the woods behind his Long Island home.

“The Power Broker” tells the story of how Moses, a New York City urban planner, used his mastery of power to reshape the face of the New York region, becoming arguably the most able practitioner of politics the city and state have ever seen.

Reading the book is a rite of passage for New York’s political class, a pledge to learn the art of politics as it is practiced in big cities, not textbooks. To display the book prominently is to signal that you, too, understand how politics works, in both its pitfalls and its promise.


That, at any rate, is what Mr. Rose was trying to get across when he set “The Power Broker” on the top shelf of a bookcase, one of only six books visible onscreen.

“I believe that Robert Moses’ legacy and his career speaks to two things, both simultaneously,” Mr. Rose said. “The first is the irreparable harm that public policy can have on racial and socioeconomic injustice.”

“But simultaneously,” the congressman added, “his legacy also speaks to the ways in which the tools of government can be utilized in a very forceful manner to make long -lasting change.”

Some elected officials insist that the placement of the book was serendipitous, like the copy that could be seen perched on a Bruno Rainaldi bookcase in a recent interview with the New York City comptroller, Scott M. Stringer.

The bookcase was bought years ago by Mr. Stringer’s wife, Elyse Buxbaum, from Design Within Reach, and Mr. Stringer said that “The Power Broker” has occupied a space there for nearly as long.


“It has lived there for years, in that exact position,” he said, before extolling the book’s many virtues.

Errol Louis, the host of NY1’s Inside City Hall, says that for the first month of broadcasting from home, his “Power Broker” edition was out of sight. But then, he began to notice something: The book was popping up in everybody’s background.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 27, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.