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Cultural and political commentator Schlesinger (1917-2007) formed his left-leaning worldview during FDR's New Deal; a liberal scholar and historian, Schlesinger produced more than 25 books (his last was 2005's War and the American Presidency), won two Pulitzers and became a powerful force in shaping liberal political thought. Taking readers through Schlesinger's diaries year by year, the book begins with Schlesinger's first encounters with presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, for whose (unsuccessful) campaign he would become a speech writer; fortunately, off years pass quickly (1953-1959 take up fewer than 30 pages), picking up again in 1960, when Schlesinger became special adviser to President Kennedy. With characteristic candor, Schlesinger weighs in on both: of Stevenson, "probably even more conservative than I had thought"; of JFK, "[he] has most of FDR's lesser qualities. Whether he has FDR's greater qualities is the problem for the future." Subsequent years bring the expected: Vietnam and LBJ, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Nixon and Watergate, the rise of Reagan and the fall of the Soviets, the first Gulf War and the second George Bush, all viewed through Schlesinger's singular perspective. Interspersed among an endless, engrossing parade of lunches with luminaries such as Henry Kissinger and Jacqueline Onassis, Schlesinger discusses his own work and a few personal details ("Another year; another house . . . spent most of the month getting settled at 118 East 82nd Street with my beloved Alexandra"). Most of the memoir, however, is a pleasingly understated whirlwind of big names and bigger issues. Rich in insight and cagily observed history, Schlesinger's weightymemoirs will mesmerize political junkies; even lay readers will be charmed and fascinated by Schlesinger's take on the 20th century's last half. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Schlesinger (1917-2007) was the preeminent liberal public intellectual of the post-World War II era: he authored 19 books, including Pulitzer Prize winners, and was regarded as the intellectual-in-chief of the Kennedy administration. His two sons Andrew (Veritas: Harvard College and the American Experience)and Stephen (Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations) have superbly winnowed their father's 6000-page journal into a readable account of his life. Although most entries in the book are serious and lengthy reflections on presidencies and presidential campaigns, especially those of Adlai Stevenson, JFK, and Robert Kennedy, also included are such amusing details as the fact that Schlesinger disliked Jimmy Carter because he reminded him of Nixon and he was annoyed by Rolling Stonepublisher Jan Wenner because he never picked up the lunch tab. Yet he hit it off with Mick Jagger when the rocker invited him and his wife to a party. Ultimately, Schlesinger's take on the last half of the 20th century will delight many, infuriate some, and inform all readers. Strongly recommended for all libraries.
My biggest problem with the book is the editing. Schlesinger's sons wanted to have the book finished for his birthday, but he died before the book was completed. In their rush, they didn't do a very good job of editing. I am too young (38) to remember first hand many of the people and events he talks about, and I only remember the big names and events from past history lessons. It would have been helpful to have a cast of characters, similar to a play, at the beginning of the book to help identify the many personalities who were a part of Schlesinger's life. Also, in-text identitifications of people were inconsistent. As for Schlesinger himself, I disagree with the earlier two reviewers. I don't think Schlesinger "hero-worshiped" the Kennedys. I think he identified with them and their family strongly, but he also states when he disagreed with JFK's policies or discusses what he thought were his failings. I also don't see him as a Nixon-hater. Did he detest the man? Sure. But when he discusses his distaste for Nixon, it is more regarding his politics and how he implemented his policies than his personality. When Nixon lived next door to Schlesinger, he really didn't have much to say about him, and certainly didn't rant about his hatred of the man. What I found most interesting about this book is how politics haven't changed at all from the 50s. Republicans use the same tactics against Democrats they always have (not patriotic, want to turn America into a socialist/communist country, etc.) and Democrats even then had the tendency to wimp out. What is interesting is that the Democrats were known as the war party, not the Republicans. That is certainly a switch from now. I like Schlesinger. He is intelligent and reasonable in his views. He handles disagreements with his opinions calmly and seems to have a knack of making his old enemies his new friends (William Buckley). Throughout most of the book he is cheerful, full of purpose, and humorous. I find his frequent complaints about his inability to finish his FDR book (and I hope he managed to finish it) due to the letter-writing, speech-giving, etc. engagements funny and familiar. I've thought many times I could get more stuff done if people would quit bothering me! An earlier reviewer mentioned his constant complaints about lack of money, yet he is always going out to eat (and not at McDonald's either) and jetting off to Europe. I think that is odd too. Although I encountered the same situation when reading Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking (an amazing book--and Joan Didion was one of those people Schlesinger detested), and discussed with a friend who also thought it was odd. We decided that certain people--people who reside within the privileged circles of society--don't care as much about paying their bills and will always go out to dinner at a nice restaurant or go to Europe and never worry about paying those pesky bills. I don't know where Joan Didion and her husband and Schlesinger and his wife found the money to do all the things they did, but I figure some of it was the trips were paid for because they were business-related trips (many of Schlesinger's were) or some of their rich friends paid the way. Anyway, Schlesinger's Journal is good reading for the historical stuff (esp. once he got into the 90s--events and people I remember and who are still in the news)and I really wish I knew what he thought of the 2008 campaign and John McCain, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama.
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Posted January 15, 2013
Posted December 6, 2007
An enjoyable read - but - the worship of the Kennedys was almost embarrassing to read. He complains about being broke all the time and yet dines out, vacations and parties with the movers and shakers, all the time. The hatred of Nixon, in particular, but others as well, shows a mean, petty little mind. He was human, but flawed. And to think he was writing national policy positions to be mouthed by our so-called leaders. Scary!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2007