Name-Dropping

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Overview

"Names? You want names? No one knows better ones than John Kenneth Galbraith” (San Diego Union-Tribune). With the dazzling insight, humor, and literary skill that mark Galbraith as one of the most distinguished writers of our time, Name-Dropping charts the political landscape of the past sixty-five years. Drawing on a lifetime of access to many great public figures, the famous economist offers a clear-eyed, unsparing, and amusing “look at prominent people . . . [he] has known, from FDR on” (Larry King, USA Today) and offers a rich and uniquely

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Name-Dropping: From FDR On

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Overview

"Names? You want names? No one knows better ones than John Kenneth Galbraith” (San Diego Union-Tribune). With the dazzling insight, humor, and literary skill that mark Galbraith as one of the most distinguished writers of our time, Name-Dropping charts the political landscape of the past sixty-five years. Drawing on a lifetime of access to many great public figures, the famous economist offers a clear-eyed, unsparing, and amusing “look at prominent people . . . [he] has known, from FDR on” (Larry King, USA Today) and offers a rich and uniquely personal history of the century—a history he helped to shape.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Born a Canadian farm boy, John Kenneth Galbraith was an unlikely candidate to become one of America's leading political dignitaries. Yet, since 1934, he has been an economic adviser and confidant to several presidents, editor of Fortune, ambassador to India, professor emeritus of economics at Harvard, author of 31 books, and all-around éminence grise. Now, at the age of 91, he offers his recollections of the men and women and the triumphs and errors he witnessed from a privileged and intimate perspective. And while this places his work in the political memoir genre, he thankfully avoids the tawdry gossip and bitter backstabbing that have become a standard aspect of White House books -- an aspect he dismisses as "unpleasant and overtly disloyal."

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson; foreign leaders Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Albert Speer; first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy; renegade philanthropists Averell Harriman and Chester Bowles -- Galbraith offers graceful and concise portraits of all these players. He reveals private moments of unexpected humor and charisma -- an off-color joke told by Harry Truman, a sardonic wisecrack made by Gandhi, the meeting between Hollywood actress Angie Dickinson and Indian Prime Minister Nehru, a day spent dove hunting in the Texas hills with Lyndon Johnson.

Yet, while Galbraith's stated aim is simply to provide portraits of those he knew and admired, he offers us much more than a mere collection of anecdotes. Throughout the book, he offers a compelling challenge to ourconventional views of history.

In 1945, Galbraith was put in charge of determining the overall economic effects of Germany's bombing raids. His duties included the interrogation of Nazis, including the former director of Hitler's war economy, Albert Speer. Galbraith found Hitler's immediate staff to be "an incredible collection of deranged incompetents." Speer shared his view -- referring to his cohorts as "Hitler's nodding donkeys" and confessing that the last months of the Third Reich were spent awash in a "sea of alcohol.... I was always dealing with drunk men." Commenting on the disparity between his observations of pathetic war criminals and the mythical view of a brilliant enemy, Galbraith observes: "When the war is over, those who won do not wish the public perception of the strength and intelligence of the now-defeated foe to be diminished. This would lessen their own wartime achievement and detract from the victory. Only the defeat of a worthy opponent secures the history of the conflict for the victors, and they, indeed, write the history."

Such insight into how official history often revises reality also appears in his portrait of John F. Kennedy. Galbraith recounts his impressions of the president and reveals the reasons he believes Kennedy would have ended the war in Vietnam. Having great respect for the intelligence and achievements of his "well-loved friend," Galbraith is disturbed by the "highly aggressive discussion that has centered on JFK's health and his extramarital sex life." Rather than take the Dick Morris tack of weighing in on his former confidant's infidelity, Galbraith instead critiques the media culture that profits from such obsession. He simply pillories those who stoop to include bedroom antics in presidential history: "Sex is something that even the dimmest commentator can understand, the least literate can write about."

With noble intent and compassionate insight, Galbraith illuminates the progress and failures of the 20th century. His book is at once a primer on political etiquette, a call for economic responsibility, and a witty and charming memoir.

--Margot Towne

USA Today
Name-Dropping is a look at prominent people the former ambassador to India and famed economist has known, from FDR on.
The New York Times
It is not usual for a man past his 90th birthday to write a book that is as fresh and lively as the work of a 30-year-old. But John Kenneth Galbraith is not a usual man, and he has done it.
The New Yorker
Galbraith never pretends to greater intimacy than he achieved with the public figures he describes in these brief essays, but each portrait tells us something we wouldn't have otherwise known.
Boston Globe
Name-Dropping: From FDR On is mischievously and merrily unrepentant.
Town and Country
No one has been more inside than John Kenneth Galbraith. In Name Dropping, he shares a dozen intimate portraits of the men and women who figured prominently in his life - from Harry Truman to Jacqueline Onassis.
Boston Magazine
Writing with great decorum, and even greater intelligence, Galbraith focuses on personality and politics in his fond but balanced portraits of the powerful.
Joel Drucker
There is a...sense that Galbraith's comments have been countlessly retold....Then again, as he enters his tenth decade, Galbraith is entitled to a bit of recycling.
Biography
Publishers Weekly
Galbraiths thin, impressionistic sojourn through his astounding career provides glimpses of some of the centurys most remarkable personalitiesincluding his own. In a series of chapters devoted to powerful, compelling individuals (FDR, JFK, LBJ, Nehru, to name a few), Galbraith rehashes much that is already known about these figures while offering his own perspective on their personalities and motivations. An astute observer of personalities, Galbraith, professor emeritus of economics at Harvard, expresses admiration for Nehru, Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt and John and Jackie Kennedy, scorn for Albert Speer and aversion to LBJ for his Vietnam entanglements. Galbraith claims he was ignorant of JFKs philandering, expresses his belief that Nazi leaders he interrogated after WWII were an incredible collection of often deranged incompetents and relates the rebukes he received from FDR concerning price control and rationing decisions. Though Galbraith treads on familiar ground with his defenses of Keynesian economics and occasional forays into liberal, Affluent Society territory, the book never congeals into a coherent whole. It is, instead an anecdotal mlange of first-hand impressions, autobiography and history.
Library Journal
It is hard to believe that Galbraith is an economist, for he is such a gifted writer. In his latest book, Galbraith (The Good Society, LJ 4/1/96) reminisces about important figures with whom he has been involved in his long and distinguished life in the public arena. Among the brief portraits are those of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, Nehru, and others. More than the self-effacing title indicates, this book offers important insights into the people and times on which its author reflects. Galbraith writes with a wit, style, and elegance few can match. While composed in an informal and conversational manner, this work delves into weighty matters concerning the key factors (leaders personality traits as well as political circumstances) that shaped an important era in modern history. At its close, Galbraith helps us make sense of the people and forces that shaped the 20th century. For public and academic libraries.
— Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles
Godfrey Hodgson
It is not usual for a man past his 90th birthday to write a book that is as fresh and lively as the work of a 30-year-old. But John Kenneth Galbraith is not a usual man, and he has done it....For American readers...it is Galbraith's take on the big cats, on Roosevelt and Truman, the Kennedys and L.B.J., that matters, and he has sharply observed things to say about all of them....Name-Dropping is...a contribution to history few others could make, and the humor remains as dry as a good martini.
The New York Times Book Review
Joel Drucker
There is a...sense that Galbraith's comments have been countlessly retold....Then again, as he enters his tenth decade, Galbraith is entitled to a bit of recycling.
Biography
Susan Page
The sort of insider anecdotes a lucky dinner guest might hear after the second or third bottle of wine has been corked...[A] quick and engaging book that also includes just a bit of self-deprication.
USA Today
Kirkus Reviews
In his 90th year, Galbraith has produced his 31st book: a slight but enjoyable remembrance of the great, and not-so-great, he has encountered in his adventures in politics. Galbraith first came to Washington, D.C., in 1934 to serve under FDR and the New Deal. He takes us from that time, when his own liberalism and the country's were being forged, to the end of the 1960s, when the liberal consensus, but not his own belief, had begun to fade. While betraying a certain nostalgia for that era, when much seemed possible and indeed much was accomplished, this is not a political tome. He focuses instead on the people he met and admired along the way. First and foremost in his memory is FDR, "the greatest political personality of the century." Some he speaks of remain well known (Truman, JFK). Others have perhaps faded somewhat from memory (Adlai Stevenson, Averell Harriman). Only one true villain makes an appearance, Albert Speer, whose semi-rehabilitation still troubles Galbraith, and only two women are profiled, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy. Galbraith brings them all to life, Speer excepted, by focusing on their humanity, foibles, and above all humor. Galbraith is a witty man and enjoys others who are so inclined, often at his own expense. "Ken," wrote Stevenson during his 1956 presidential campaign, "I want you to write the speeches against Nixon. You have no tendency to be fair." LBJ commented on a speech on economics Galbraith wrote: "Making a speech on ee-conomics is a lot like pissin' down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else." Speaking to antiwar protesters outside the 1968 Democratic Convention Galbraith says, "I don't want you fightingwith these National Guardsmen Remember, they're draft dodgers just like you."Ê' And so it goes. There's some criticism here, there could be more. There's little to no mention of politicians after LBJ. But perhaps these will be part of Galbraith' s 32nd book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618154531
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/1/2001
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was a critically acclaimed author and one of America's foremost economists. His most famous works include The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. Galbraith was the receipient of the Order of Canada and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, and he was twice awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Table of Contents

1 On Name-Dropping 1
2 Franklin D. Roosevelt, I: The New Deal 9
3 Franklin D. Roosevelt, II: The War in Washington 25
4 Eleanor Roosevelt 45
5 Albert Speer: The Essential Enemy 57
6 Harry Truman - and After 67
7 Too Madly for Adlai 85
8 John F. Kennedy 101
9 The Kennedy Circle, Jacqueline Kennedy 119
10 Jawaharlal Nehru 131
11 L. B. J. 143
12 Bowles, Ball, Harriman and the Tyranny of Policy 157
13 Sketches on the Larger Screen 175
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First Chapter

Chapter One


On Name-Dropping


Books, like those who write them, have an unplanned life of their own. The very act of writing has a controlling role. When I started this book, I intended to describe the political personality — the personal and public traits that, as I saw them, allowed the great leaders of our century to influence or dominate the political scene. There are still elements of this intention in the pages that follow. But it faded as a central purpose.

    Instead, as the work proceeded, there was more interest for the author, as I trust there will be for the reader, in how the great political figures appeared to their contemporaries, of whom I was one. What did I recall of personal encounters or public association with Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor, the Kennedys, Nehru and others? Such recollections took over, but with them came a certain risk.

    Reminiscence and anecdote, as they tell of one's meetings with the great or the prominent, are an established form of self-enhancement. They make known that one was there. This is not my purpose; my aim is to inform and perhaps, on occasion, to entertain. The risk, nonetheless, exists that critics who are less than tolerant may suggest that I am indulging in name-dropping. Hence the title of the book and that of this chapter; nothing so disarms a prosecutor as a prior confession of guilt.

    Not all that follows concerns the political figures of my time. I frequently digress to write of my own experience and of responsibilities accorded me. This tells something of those of whom I speak. Not exceptionally in writing of this kind, it may well tell more of the author.

    Here also is an occasional event or personal encounter of which I have told before. For this I do not apologize. All education and all worthwhile writing is, in some measure, a recapture of the already known.


Much of this book—most, in fact—is centered on now-distant times; an important part dates to the first half of the century that is now drawing to a close. It was with the events of this period and the people that I was involved. I now read of, and from time to time encounter, the influential men and women of the present day. It is for others to tell of them; this I do not, in all cases, regret.


There will be question less as to those who have been selected for recollection and celebration here than as to those omitted or discussed only briefly. The reason is not far to seek; it is whether or not I was there and have something to add. On one or two occasions I met Dwight D. Eisenhower; he was and remains one of the underestimated Presidents of our time. A Republican, he accepted the great social legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the twenty-year New Deal era and made it an integral part of American life. F.D.R. initiated, Truman continued, Eisenhower confirmed. He also left the deathless and death-defying warning as to the military-industrial complex. But when I have said this of Ike, I have very little else to say.

    As to another major figure, one exactly of my generation, there is a similar problem. Ronald Reagan and I were fellow founders of Americans for Democratic Action, once and still a dominant liberal voice in the land. Ronnie, as he was known, left us when his screen career diminished and he began giving well-paid lectures on, as it was then denoted, the free enterprise system. His regression, we always said, was not from any commitment to newly acquired belief; it was only for the money. On his later career there was nothing of which I had firsthand knowledge. This, I do slightly regret, for Ronald Reagan was the first wholly uninhibited Keynesian President — eager public spending to provide economic stimulation and employment, all financed by large public borrowing, with the resulting budget deficit. However, there was a dark side, to which Keynes would have reacted adversely: the spending was for extensively unneeded armaments.

    With Jimmy Carter, whom I first met in Georgia and saw on later occasions, I had only a distant association. It was his special tragedy that, while Ronald Reagan succeeded with the economic policies his party had so long opposed, Jimmy Carter was taken to defeat by those conservatives had long urged. His highly reputable economists, in pursuit of economic virtue, accepted that a President seeking re-election could survive inflation attacked only by its traditional and painful remedies: high interest rates, economic stagnation, unemployment. It was a triumph of rigorous economic orthodoxy; ignored only was Jimmy Carter's all-but-certain fate.


One of my closest and certainly one of my most admired friends in politics over many years has been George McGovern, presidential candidate in 1972 against Richard Nixon. I had a small role in his selection as a candidate and a not insignificant one in his defeat. At the Democratic Convention that year, as a leader of the Massachusetts delegation, I vetoed his first choice for Vice President, Kevin White, the Mayor of Boston. I did not think I could win state support for his nomination because, among other things, White had endorsed McGovern's opponent in the primary. There would be an unseemly row on the floor. McGovern went on to Tom Eagleton, who, it soon became known, had once had some modest, wholly curable psychiatric problems. Unwisely, George dropped him from the ticket and then was involved in an embarrassing search for a substitute. In consequence, his campaign had a very bad start. He should have ignored my advice. I haven't told here of George McGovern perhaps because, again, I have little to add, perhaps more because I prefer to write about those with whom my association was less disastrous.

    Also passed over with McGovern, but for a very different reason, is Richard Nixon. In 1942, in the tense months after Pearl Harbor, he served in the Office of Price Administration as an attorney on rubber-tire rationing, of which I was then in charge. He drafted my letters, but I did not, as I recall, ever meet him. I became fully aware of his existence and character only with his crusade against Communism and Alger Hiss. Later when his enemies' list became known, my name was present, adorned, according to my recollection, with two checkmarks. In one of his taped and reluctantly released conversations in the White House, he dignified me as the leading enemy of good public process in our time. But, to repeat, I never met him, so Richard Nixon is not here.


I once contemplated, a chapter in this book on Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle. Not in recent times, not perhaps ever, have two politicians accepted greater risks with greater ultimate success. How grim and dim the prospect in 1940; how enormous our debt to their intransigent stand. During my wartime years in Washington, Churchill was especially a presence; one thought of him, more even perhaps than of F.D.R., as the guiding military force of the war. I did meet both Churchill and de Gaulle but only after the war was over and for no deeply operative purpose. To have made anything of these encounters would, indeed, have been namedropping.


A more serious matter is the very few women—only Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy—present in these accounts. That, very simply, is because, for most of the period here covered, women were not visible in the political world. The concern here is with high office; this was the virtually exclusive domain, the preserve, of men. Among presidential wives some did step forward. In her husband's presidency Nancy Reagan was an evident force; with her, not surprisingly, I had no personal acquaintance.

    John F. Kennedy, in a conversation of which I have told on other occasions, once raised with me the question of women in politics. He advanced what I thought the deeply retrograde thesis that women were naturally lacking in political talent. He asked me to name some outstandingly successful women politicians. I responded with Eleanor Roosevelt. He agreed and asked for another. I was troubled for the moment and, in some desperation, proposed Elizabeth I. Kennedy laughed scornfully and said, "Now you have only one left, Maggie Smith." Margaret Chase Smith, pioneer woman senator from Maine, was not—here we differed—a favorite of his.

    Were Kennedy now alive, he would not be making the point; women are still underrepresented in politics, but the change in the last thirty-five years strongly affirms their political aptitude. Alas, it came too late for this volume. And there is yet to be a woman President.


I turn now to Franklin Roosevelt, the first and in many ways the greatest of those I encountered over a lifetime. And the one, more than incidentally, who accorded me the most responsibility. It was no slight matter to have control over all the prices of all things sold in the United States. And briefly over consumer rationing as well. My role in the Office of Price Administration was my principal association with F.D.R., but I also observed his leadership in the New Deal and, more generally, in the war, and of this I will tell as well.

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  • Posted April 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Don't waste your money!

    It does not make sense that this was a New York Times Notable Book - Unless you consider the extreme Liberal bias that emanates from its pages...I was appalled to read that a Socialist, non-American citizen (at the time) with Communist sympathies held such high authority in our national economy during the Second World War.

    Name Dropping is exactly what it says - a so-called educated man's attempt to list anyone and everyone in politics that he may have made acquaintance with, no matter the breadth or substance of the encounter.

    I am in no way impressed with Galbraith's ability to stumble across great men and women; in fact, I was horrified by some of the stories in which he repeatedly inserted his foot into his mouth in their presence(s).

    The author's portrayal of these public figures is completely uninspiring, leaving me to believe that his actual dealings were few-and-far between...if not exaggerated entirely.

    If you enjoy 200+ pages of listening to one man's ego, than this is a must read....

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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