Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs: When David Fought Goliath in Washington Square Park

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Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs are the subject and the author of two of the most indelible nonfiction books of the 20th century: Robert Caro’s biography of Moses, “The Power Broker” (1974) and Jacobs’s own “Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961). If you want to know about these towering oppositional figures, those are the bedrock texts, and neither feels remotely like homework: they’re as alive today as when they were written.

It’s not immediately clear, in other words, why anyone needs a book like Anthony Flint’s well-carpentered but breezy “Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City.”

Yet Mr. Flint, a former reporter for The Boston Globe, makes an interesting case for his book’s relevance. He points out the curious fact that Jacobs is not mentioned once in “The Power Broker.” Mr. Caro had devoted an entire chapter to her in his original manuscript, but for space reasons it was cut from the 1,246-page published version.

What’s more, Jacobs fended off biographers. Despite Alice S. Alexiou’s biography, published by Rutgers University Press in 2006, the intricacies of her life and her battles with Moses are not well known.

Moses and Jacobs clashed during the 1950s and ’60s over three of the huge public works projects Moses tried to force on Manhattan. It is hard even to list them now without cringing — or nearly weeping with gratitude that they never came to pass....

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