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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.
Posted January 15, 2013