Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Guardians of the American Century

Overview

In 1948 the column-writing Alsop brothers produced an article for the Saturday Evening Post, then the country's preeminent weekly magazine. Its title: "Must America Save the World?" Their answer was a resounding yes. Indeed, Joseph and Stewart Alsop were there in those heady postwar years when the country's foreign-policy elite created what became known as the American Century. As men of words, they served as confidants of and cheerleaders for the men of deeds, who came largely from the country's patrician class....
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Overview

In 1948 the column-writing Alsop brothers produced an article for the Saturday Evening Post, then the country's preeminent weekly magazine. Its title: "Must America Save the World?" Their answer was a resounding yes. Indeed, Joseph and Stewart Alsop were there in those heady postwar years when the country's foreign-policy elite created what became known as the American Century. As men of words, they served as confidants of and cheerleaders for the men of deeds, who came largely from the country's patrician class. The Alsop brothers were themselves sons of this class. Theodore Roosevelt was the brothers' great-uncle. Eleanor Roosevelt was their mother's first cousin. They grew up with members of this Anglo-Saxon elite, went to school with them, socialized with them. And they threw the considerable weight of their column behind the efforts of these statesmen to refashion the world. Writing four times a week, they appeared in nearly two hundred newspapers; their work also graced the pages of the major magazines of the time. Thus, they wielded immense influence throughout the nation from the victory in World War II to the defeat in Vietnam. Stewart was a political analyst of rare acumen, while Joe, his older brother, was a curmudgeon with an aristocratic bearing and a biting wit. He once likened a dinner at Lyndon Johnson's to "going to an opera in which one man sings all the parts." He was a friend and confidant of John Kennedy, a teacher of Washington ways to Jackie Kennedy. When he called people in the highest echelons of officialdom, they responded. In Taking On the World, Robert W. Merry, a Washington insider himself, has fashioned an intricate and fascinating combination of biography and narrative history. As Mr. Merry puts it, "Within the lifetime of the Alsop brothers the country was remade. And its remaking illuminates their careers, just as their careers illuminate the American Century." Robert Merry casts brilliant light on these two remarkable men, and

Blue-blooded journalists Joseph and Stewart Alsop dominated the Washington press corps from the end of World War II to Vietnam. Their influence in the highest government circles was so great that they even initiated policy decisions. This rich and entertaining portrait of the Alsops and their age is an unusually illuminating window into American history. 16 pages of photos. 672 pp. National ads. Author appearances. Online promo.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Educated at Groton, Harvard and Yale, the Connecticut-Yankee Alsops formed a postwar journalistic partnership with a New York Herald Tribune column read by millions. ``At every crisis and critical juncture,'' writes Merry, ``they were there to give expression to the principles and impulses that guided the nation's foreign-policy leaders and shaped its role in the world.'' Their illuminating commentary on the great issues of the day, from the end of WWII to the fall of Saigon in 1975, was a chronicle of the old order's disintegration as well, according to Merry. McCarthyism was seen as an assault on the WASP elite; the 1956 Suez crisis, principally a humiliation for the British, as a weakening of the authority of establishment Anglo-Saxons; while the war in Vietnam completed the process. In this richly detailed double bio, Merry brings the brothers themselves into three-dimensional view-Stewart (1914-1974), the plainspoken, dispassionate realist; Joseph (1912-1989), the hyperbolic gadfly-and describes how they helped define the end of the American century. As much social and cultural history as biography, the book should have wide appeal. Merry is a former Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent. Photos. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Joseph and Stewart Alsop covered the American political scene for the New York Herald Tribune, the Saturday Evening Post, and Newsweek from the 1930s into the 1970s. Born into America's Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and educated at elite institutions, the brothers had personal ties to the most powerful men and women of their time. Merry, executive editor of Congressional Quarterly and a former Washington correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, combines accounts of the brothers' personal lives with a history of their journalism careers. He moves easily from the details of an extravagant dinner party at Joe's Georgetown home to a discussion of how the brothers covered the "loss of China." While the book offers little critical analysis of journalists as insiders, it is an engrossing history of how two very powerful journalists covered and attempted to shape American policy through the middle years of the 20th century. For all journalism collections.-Judy Solberg, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park
Booknews
Chronicles the lives and careers of the Alsop brothers, prominent newspaper and magazine columnists who inspired and influenced Americans from WWII to the early 1970s, intertwining biography with social and cultural history. Offers accounts of the brothers' interactions with figures including the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson, as well as details on their personal lives. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Michael Beschloss
A fascinating dual biography of Joe Alsop and his brother Stuart...Merry artfully recreates the Shakespearean relationship between Joe and his brother...superbly rendered.
—Michael Beschloss, Newsweek
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140149845
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/15/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Joseph and Stewart Alsop: The Pinnacle of the Reporter's Trade
1 New World Roots: The Alsops, the Robinsons, and the Roosevelts 3
2 Avon and Henderson: The Long Shadow of TR 13
3 Groton: In the Image of the British Boarding School 23
4 Harvard and Yale: The Search for Identity 34
5 The Herald Tribune: Mastering the Elements of the Reporter's Trade 43
6 Joe Goes to Washington: "He Is Himself a Roosevelt" 53
7 Stewart in New York: Fun, Frolic - and Drift 69
8 The War Issue: "Deeply in Accord with the President's Policy" 76
9 Disbanding the Column: Adventure and Adversity in the Far East 93
10 Stewart's War: "In Other Words, He's Found Himself" 105
11 Joe and Vinegar Joe: War and Intrigue in China 122
12 Home From the War: Work and Play in Washington 149
13 Global Challenge: "We May in the End Be Defeated..." 163
14 The Truman Cronies: Leading the Charge for Military Preparedness 178
15 Korea: From Joe's Garden to the Battlefront 193
16 McCarthyism: Joining Battle to Defend Old Adversaries 207
17 Ike and Adlai: Covering the 1952 Campaign 227
18 Ike's Washington: Declaring War on Business as Usual 242
19 The Oppenheimer Affair: The Triumph of Journalistic Outrage 254
20 McCarthy's Decline: Crossing the Line of Journalistic Propriety 271
21 The Mid-Fifties: Washington and the West's Far-Flung Battlements 278
22 Suez: The Beginning of the End of the Old Elite 291
23 Separate Ways: "Floods of Tears, Diluted with Champagne" 306
24 New Directions: The East and the Heartland 325
25 1960: Covering and Savoring the Kennedy Phenomenon 340
26 Joe and Kennedy: The Public Life, the Private Life 360
27 Stewart and Kennedy: The Art of Journalistic Detachment 374
28 Missile Crisis: Stewart versus the Adlai Cult 385
29 From JFK to LBJ: Early Rumblings of a Distant War 396
30 Joe and Vietnam: Trapped by the Force of Conviction 417
31 Stewart and Vietnam: "Like a Tethered Goat at a Tiger Shoot" 437
32 1968: The Victims and Victors of History 456
33 The Great Retreat: Dissecting Nixon's Dangerous Game Plan 473
34 Cancer: "God Tempers the Wind to the Shorn Lamb" 493
35 Watergate: Witness to a Political Tragedy 511
36 End of the Line: All Trains Stop in Baltimore 524
(Epilogue) "Nothing Endures": The Old Elite and the American Century 541
Notes 551
Bibliography 612
Index 621
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