Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary

Overview

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan died in 2003 the Economist described him as “a philosopher-politician-diplomat who two centuries earlier would not have been out of place among the Founding Fathers.” Though Moynihan never wrote an autobiography, he was a gifted author and voluminous correspondent, and in this selection from his letters Steven Weisman has compiled a vivid portrait of Moynihan’s life, in the senator’s own words.

Before his four terms as Senator from New York, Moynihan...

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary

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Overview

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan died in 2003 the Economist described him as “a philosopher-politician-diplomat who two centuries earlier would not have been out of place among the Founding Fathers.” Though Moynihan never wrote an autobiography, he was a gifted author and voluminous correspondent, and in this selection from his letters Steven Weisman has compiled a vivid portrait of Moynihan’s life, in the senator’s own words.

Before his four terms as Senator from New York, Moynihan served in key positions under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. His letters offer an extraordinary window into particular moments in history, from his feelings of loss at JFK’s assassination, to his passionate pleas to Nixon not to make Vietnam a Nixon war, to his frustrations over healthcare and welfare reform during the Clinton era.

This book showcases the unbridled range of Moynihan’s intellect and interests, his appreciation for his constituents, his renowned wit, and his warmth even for those with whom he profoundly disagreed. Its publication is a significant literary event.

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Editorial Reviews

Dennis Drabelle
…Moynihan was a witty and elegant stylist—and not just for a politician…
—The Washington Post
David Brooks
…absorbing reading…This whole collection has been put together with superb care. While writing this review, I've been cursing Weisman's introduction for its mastery in highlighting all the crucial points about Moynihan's life. It is hard to write anything about this book that doesn't merely repeat that fine essay. Weisman has also written superb contextual paragraphs between the letters, so even people unfamiliar with Moynihan's career will be able to follow along easily.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Weisman, a public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute (The Great Tax Wars) has accomplished an extraordinary feat in assembling this selection from among 10,000 pages of letters bequeathed by Senator Moynihan to the Library of Congress. Weisman provides a short overview of Moynihan's life and an introduction to each of his letters. In a moving epilogue, Maura Moynihan puts it best. Despite an active political life, her father, she says, was first and foremost a writer. "He wrote every day-even at Christmas." Not only was Moynihan's correspondence voluminous (he saved copies of every letter he wrote), he also authored several controversial books (Miles to Go, Secrecy and Family and Nation among them). Although he was a Democrat, and a member of JFK's White House, he also served as an advisor to Richard Nixon, an ambassador to India, a professor at Harvard, and was elected to the senate four times. With correspondence that begins in 1951 when Moynihan, upon finishing college after a stint in the Navy, attended the London School of Economics on a Fulbright scholarship, and ends shortly before his death in 2003, this collection is not only a tremendous resource to scholars, but an invaluable window into the mind and heart of an extraordinary man.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher

The Economist, September 18, 2010
“There can be no better bedside collection for anyone who is interested in the history of America and the world in the second half of the 20th century—or in a life lived bravely.”

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30, 2010
“Unfortunately, Moynihan never wrote [a memoir]. The closest thing we have is his voluminous correspondence, collected for the first time in Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”

Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker
“‘Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary’ (PublicAffairs; $35) will probably be read more widely and for longer, and certainly with greater pleasure, than any of the others on the Moynihan shelf… The Moynihan papers are the largest one-man collection in the Library of Congress—ten thousand pages, enough to lay a paper trail from the White House to the Capitol. From this mother lode of foolscap, the journalist Steven R. Weisman has sculpted a work of coherence and energy… [The] tensions and crosscuttings make for a stimulating book, just as they made for an adventurous mind and an eventful life.”

David Brooks, New York Times Book Review
“His letters recorded the evolving intellectual adventure of a restless mind. Moynihan explored the grand themes of history and tried to understand the times in the most ambitious of ways: the cultural implications of the shift from the industrial to the post-industrial society, the disaffection of the intellectual class, the foreign policy implications of ethnic tension in the post-communist world… The letters make for absorbing reading because Moynihan’s grand ideas were always driven by his own internal tensions. It was as if he were writing an intensely personal memoir but was phrasing his discoveries in the language of Samuel Huntington…. This whole collection has been put together with superb care. While writing this review, I’ve been cursing Weisman’s introduction for its mastery in highlighting all the crucial points in Moynihan’s life. It is hard to write anything about this book that doesn’t repeat that fine essay. Weisman has also written superb contextual paragraphs between the letters, so even people unfamiliar with Moynihan’s career will be able to follow along easily…He remains an exemplar for those who find that their lives and views don’t fit neatly into a partisan camp, a guiding model for hybrids past and future.”
 
Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times
“Students of history, philosophy and literature will find it hard to resist Mr. Moynihan’s endless musings and eyewitness accounts of pivotal moments in 20th-century history, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to India’s ascent as a nuclear power.” 
 
The Economist
“There can be no better bedside collection for anyone who is interested in the history of America and the world in the second half of the 20th century—or in a life lived bravely.”
 
George F. Will, Washington Post (syndicated)
“Today, seven years after Moynihan's death, conservatism's contention is that liberal politics produces a culture of dependency and a government riddled with rent-seeking -- the manipulation of government power for private advantage. Would that Moynihan were here to elevate the liberal side of the debate, as he did throughout his well-lived life.” 
 
Michael Kinsley, Politico
“A new collection of Moynihan’s letters and journals has just been published by Public Affairs, elegantly edited by former New York Times reporter Steven R. Weisman… George Will has already skimmed the cream of Moynihan quotes and, quite rightly, praised Moynihan’s eloquence and brilliant insights. His accomplishments are well-known. That leaves me with the scraps. But what scraps!” 
 
Charles Horner, Wall Street Journal
“Across the years, Moynihan generated a mountain of words—including books, journal articles and magazine pieces (e.g., the famous 1993 "Defining Deviancy Down"). The Moynihan family asked Steven R. Weisman, a friend and a former New York Times reporter, to make a selection from Moynihan's thousands of letters, as well as from his occasional memorandums and journal entries. The result is "Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary." Mr. Weisman has worked very hard—commendably so—to fashion his portrait, giving us first-person glimpses of one of the most combative, intellectually engaged and restless public figures of our time.” 
 
John Avlon, The Daily Beast
“This is an autobiography written in real time. It offers a portrait of an American civic original, with an exuberant personality and a vibrant mind, both an optimist and a skeptic, full of a passion for putting ideas into action. And while the book doubles as an intimate history of the second half of the 20th century, its primary impact on me was something more than nostalgia: it made realize how much we need more Moynihans in our politics.”
 
Bob Lenzner, Forbes
“A current celebration of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's ebullient life as an academic, diplomat, White House advisor, author and, finally, as a senator, underscores the lack of wisdom, wit, civility and vision that prevails today in the legislature today. Stand advised to do yourself a favor by acquiring the just-published, "Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Portrait In Letters of An American Visionary." It's an invaluable history lesson and bewitching as well.” 
 
VanityFair.com
“Daniel Patrick Moynihan served as an ambassador, a senator, and an adviser to four presidents. Along the way he faithfully recorded his thoughts—trenchant, frank, and often very funny—in a substantial and revealing private correspondence… Moynihan (1927–2003) had a way of putting his finger on things. He was one of the most original figures in American public life…Moynihan once got into an altercation on the Senate floor, but his weapon of choice was words. He poured them into letters, diaries, and lengthy memoranda to his colleagues and bosses among the powerful. Moynihan never wrote an autobiography, but his private, unpublished writings serve as a personal testament.” 
 
Chronicle of Higher Education
“Unfortunately, Moynihan never wrote [a memoir]. The closest thing we have is his voluminous correspondence, collected for the first time in Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”
 
Michael Sigman, Huffington Post
“Open to any page of the just-released book and you may be touched by Moynihan’s humanism; tickled by his self-deprecating humor; awed by his intellectual prowess and writerly cadence; saddened by the fact that no public official would dare say these kinds of things today; impressed by his unabashed and courageous social liberalism or infuriated by his hawkish foreign policy views.” 

Washington Monthly

“Throughout every page of the letters but the last hundred or so, when grouchiness takes over, Moynihan is a delight to read. He was a gifted writer, funny, wry, quick with an allusion and good with a phrase, even as he stoked his own legend and trumpeted his prescience.” 
 
George Weigel, First Things
“His letters reintroduce us to Pat Moynihan’s scintillating intellect, sparkling wit, and penetrating insight into some the great issues of the late 20th century…Daniel Patrick Moynihan was one of the five or 10 most influential public intellectuals of the past half-century, a man whose ideas eventually worked themselves into the hard soil of public policy.” 
 
The New Nixon (blog)
“At a moment like this, the President might find it useful to set aside his copy of Freedom (able novelist though Jonathan Franzen is) and instead acquire an advance copy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan… Whether as a professor, Presidential advisor, ambassador (to India and, memorably, the United Nations) or in his quarter-century as US Senator from New York, Pat Moynihan addressed the issues of the day in memorable prose, brimming with common sense and uncommon insight.”
 

CIO Magazine, November 16, 2010
“immensely worthwhile… Moynihan's letters provide a glimpse into the thinking of a remarkable brain, and an insider's view of some of the most remarkable political events of the 20th century.”

Syracuse Post-Herald, November 27, 2010
“Maura believes her father knew his letters would someday be published. Many were written with such passion that Weisman said “you can almost hear the typewriter banging around.” Yet the challenge Weisman faced bordered on the overwhelming: He needed to craft a living, breathing portrait from shelves upon shelves of documents. Twelve Maxwell students, in that haystack, found the soul of Maura’s dad.”

Buffalo News, November 28, 2010
“The book is a rich treasury of the thoughts, casual and profound, of an elected official who in many ways seemed straight out of the best tradition of our early 19th century leaders.”
Daily Beast, November 25, 2010
“Moynihan's notes and letters to other politicians and family members reveal him to be even more broad-minded, civil, and iconic than even his popular reputation suggests.”

Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2011
“Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the kind of figure who almost makes you wish there were more intellectuals in American political life. The problem is, there was only one Moynihan.”

Powells.com, March 22, 2011 “An apt, even riveting testament to Moynihan's public life. Weisman's succinct introductions weave the entries into something like a Moynihan memoir. The book displays all the man's energy, wit, wide-ranging interests, and determination, along with (to Weisman's great credit) his weaknesses -- his insecurities, political flattery, and occasional whining. It's as vivid a portrait of a political life as you could ask for.”

Library Journal
Moynihan (1927–2003) spent more than 40 years in the political arena as an urban affairs adviser for presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; a four-term senator from New York; ambassador to India and the UN; and a public intellectual and author. Weisman (editorial director, Peterson Inst. for International Economics; The Great Tax Wars) has done excellent work carving out this collection from Moynihan's papers now in the Library of Congress. He includes correspondence to all Presidents from Kennedy to Clinton and hundreds of letters to the many prominent leaders and citizens who touched Moynihan's career. Each chapter contains a brief, helpful introduction, and each letter is prefaced by a short explanation. Moynihan's letters reveal an articulate writer capable of being combative, conciliatory, forthright, and humorous. The letters lay to rest the misconception that Moynihan was bigoted when he said the problems of urban blacks could benefit from a period of "benign neglect." As Moynihan claims here, and as James Patterson's Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America's Struggle Over Black Family Life—From LBJ to Obama concluded, "benign neglect" was a plea for less heated rhetoric and not a recommendation to ignore decaying cities. VERDICT This compilation, aimed at historians and public policy specialists, will reward its intended audience.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610392174
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 1,416,331
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven R. Weisman is editorial director and public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute in Washington, DC; before that he was the chief international economics correspondent of the New York Times. He also served at the Times as a member of the editorial board, specializing in politics and economics (1995–2002) and as deputy foreign editor. He is the author of The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln to Wilson—The Fierce Battles over Money and Power That Transformed the Nation, which received the Sidney Hillman Award in 2003 for the book that most advances the cause of social justice.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Steven R. Weisman Weisman, Steven R. 1

Chapter One "I Think We are Going to Make History" 27

Chapter Two "Nine Pages of Dynamite" 75

Chapter Three "We Were Going to Change This Country" 113

Chapter Four "Welfare is a Bankrupt and Destructive System" 173

Chapter Five "The Erosion of Authority Will Continue" 199

Chapter Six "...a President They Trust and Admire" 229

Chapter Seven "Something Perhaps to Be Forgiven" 273

Chapter Eight "The Indians Have the Bomb" 323

Chapter Nine "Dear Yorker...Dear New Yorker" 387

Chapter Ten "Therefore They Will Decline" 457

Chapter Eleven "We Have a Prospect of Peace on Earth" 487

Chapter Twelve "I Propose that Kuwait Be Liberated..." 525

Chapter Thirteen "What is to Be Done?" 579

Chapter Fourteen "Thus Ends the Progressive Era" 617

Chapter Fifteen "I Write to Say Farewell and Thanks" 651

My Father the Writer Maura Moynihan Moynihan, Maura 665

Acknowledgments 671

Index 677

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