Maximum Power Broker
Maximum Power Broker is a reading group that will run from April through October 2023. We are reading Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker,” no surprise. If you want to follow along with this project, you will find it on the “Maximum Power Broker” section of the Maximum New York newsletter.
Welcome to Maximum Power Broker. Are you ready? Yes, you are.
Maximum Power Broker is for anyone who wants to plant their flag on The Power Broker’s (TPB) Everesteque 1162nd page. For most of you, TPB has been nothing more than a taunt—not even a challenge, because the book knows you won’t pick it up. Most copies won’t be picked up beyond being lifted from their Amazon boxes and placed onto a bookshelf directly into the sightline of a Zoom camera.
This is an undignified state of affairs for any book, but especially a great book, and everyone can feel the scalding impropriety. So let’s change the way TPB is approached once and for all, together. It may remain someone else’s Waterloo, but as for us—we are the goddamned Seventh Coalition. Let me be your Wellington.1
The Plan and Summary Overview
April 3: I begin letting people into the group’s online forum on a rolling basis. Apply now, and sooner is better than later!
April 3—April 16: (the next two weeks) Make your profile on the online forum, buy your copy of the book, make your TPB project plan, and more. See the next section for the full list of things you’ll do.
April 17: Kickoff day! Begin reading, if you haven’t already.
April 17—October 15: (26 weeks, or six months) We read the book, produce artifacts about it (essays, videos, etc), meet each other online and in person, and more. Anticipate prizes, surprises, glory, special guests, and fun.
TBD: celebration of our collective achievement.
Action items to do by April 17
- Fill out the application form to join the group. I’ll admit people into the online forum on a rolling basis beginning this coming Monday, April 3. The application will close on April 15, 8pm EST.
- Once in the forum, do five things by April 17:
- Read and acknowledge the code of conduct.
- Fill out your member profile with your real name, picture, and information.
- Write a self-introductory post.
- Read the explanatory posts in the “How to read The Power Broker” section of the forum. These equip you with meta-skills and strategies you’ll need, and they explain the different components of your project plan.
- Make and post your TPB project plan, which is your explicit allocation of reading time, goals, and strategies.
- Buy your copy of The Power Broker ASAP. I highly recommend the physical copy, with auxiliary format accompaniment if desired or needed.
- Sign up for the Maximum New York newsletter (or check it regularly). The MNY newsletter has a “Maximum Power Broker” section that will be the public-facing record of our progress, and will contain my own notes about TPB, relevant auxiliary sources, and more. If you have the means, I also recommend becoming a monthly paid subscriber to this newsletter for the duration of the reading group. It helps me run it, and paying for something puts more skin in the game.
- Join Maximum Power Broker Q&As. I’ll host Q&As about various aspects of this project in the run-up to April 17. Bring any questions, comments, or concerns that you may have! I’ll post these in the forum.
How to read The Power Broker
Reading TPB, or any book for that matter, is a different kind of activity than most people imagine. Reading is a composite skill, and you can be trained far beyond the basic literacy you acquired in school. There is a meta-suite of skills required to successfully read TPB, and part of this book group will be explicitly addressing and cultivating those meta-skills as we go along. If you don’t deliberately cultivate them, their lack will defeat you.
Reading TPB requires recognizing things about yourself, things about the book, and emergent affordances that arise between the two.
The “just open the book and read it” approach usually fails for the same reasons that “just walk up to the starting line and run the marathon” would fail. Fundamentally, neither of them evaluates reality before engaging with it.
As with reading, so with marathon training: you need to gauge and augment your strength, compensate for your weakness, evaluate the difficulty of the course, and assume a psychological posture attuned to the nature of your task and the achievement of your deliberately chosen goals.
How do you know if you can do Maximum Power Broker?
Before joining this group, you need to perform a basic inventory to see if you have the time and resources to actually read the book in six months. Not doing this in some form is most people’s first act of self-sabotage when reading “great books.” If you don’t perform the inventory, you will feel uncertain about what you’re doing, because you literally don’t know the road ahead of you. You have no time estimates, no page goal guideposts, and no plan. This breeds feelings of overwhelm and cuts down agency.
To perform the inventory, you ask and answer, in the most basic way: What is TPB?
What is The Power Broker?
It is 1,141 pages.2
We will read it over 26 weeks, or six months.
That is an average of 44 pages a week, or 190 pages a month.
Based on Audible audiobook 1x reading speed, this will take 11 hours and 10 minutes per month, although most people would do well to budget 12 hours per month, with additional time for forum participation to such an extent as they desire. There are better and worse ways to allocate these 12 hours; for example, most people will perform poorly if they try to read three hours straight every Saturday of the month.
I have prepared a guide that contains all the chapters of TPB, their page count, their page range, monthly guideposts (i.e. “this page by this date”), and estimated reading time by chapter derived from Audible. You can see a summary in my Google Sheet breakdown, where you will find two tabs: one tab has tabular data by chapter, and the other has an interactive chart that graphs chapter pages against reading time estimates.
Also note: this reading group will take place over the summer. If you will travel or otherwise be more distractible than usual (there will be more bare shoulders than usual, after all), take this into consideration when planning your availability.
What kind of group is Maximum Power Broker?
Ideally you read TPB in a group because it is more fun, and makes your goals (whatever they are) more achievable. Unfortunately, many TPB book clubs are set up to directly undercut either of these things. They usually don’t prep their members with appropriate meta-skills or inventories, and they often function as a social amplification of the shame you feel when you, by the group’s structural faults, fail to read TPB. Reading in a group should make the process easier, rather than heighten feelings of failure if things take a temporary dip.
Maximum Power Broker will not fail you in these ways. If you join the group, you will get the support you need, find fun to have, and bask in your hard-won achievement six months from now.
In service of that end, I’m also telling you right now: at some point, you will get behind in the reading, and others will zoom ahead. This is an inevitability, and it is regular. In fact, it would be weird if you didn’t fall behind at various points!
Falling behind is not a problem. Not catching up is, but the whole point of reading in a group is that you can ask others to help get you up to speed. We will be shameless about falling behind; I relieve you of your shame, because it is not shameful. You do not lose social status points if you fall behind, and you gain them if you make a big deal about catching up well. I will personally allocate points for that.
What are you waiting for?
Do what few have dared to do, and even fewer have accomplished.
Become a model for everyone who would come after your superlative example.
Apprehend one of the greatest books of the twentieth century.
From Wikipedia: “The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, near Waterloo (at that time in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, now in Belgium). A French army under the command of Napoleon was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition. One of these was a British-led coalition consisting of units from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick, and Nassau, under the command of the Duke of Wellington.” ↩
The last page is numbered as 1,162, but once you subtract the interstitial pages between chapters and the major part divisions of the book, there are only 1,141. These are further cut down by a few tens of pages that are only pictures, but one should take plenty of time to inspect these as one would words. ↩