Michael Beschloss, Newsweek
Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop - Guardians of the American Centuryby Robert W. Merry
In 1948 the column-writing Alsop brothers produced an article for the Saturday Evening Post, then the country's preminent weekly magazine. Its title: &'grave;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… See more details below
In 1948 the column-writing Alsop brothers produced an article for the Saturday Evening Post, then the country's preminent weekly magazine. Its title: &'grave;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 these 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, whent to school with them, socializedd with them. And they threw the considerable weight of their column behnd 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, and widely appreciated for his bonhomie, 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 &'grave;going to an opera in which one man sings all the parts.'' On another occasion he characterized the august New York Times, whose reporting he didn't like, as a &'grave;lunatic cathedral.'' 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 officaldolm, they responded.
The brothers' connection with the high and mighty of Washington makes for dramatic reading. These pages serve as a window on such notables of American wartime and postwar history as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, General Claire Chennault of the wartime China theater, secretaries of state Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger, defense secretaries James Forrestal and Robert McNamara, and various Supreme Court justices and top-level senators.
It's a human story as well -- about the brothers' harrowing wartime experiences; about a loving but occasionally tumultuous brotherly relationship; about friendships made and lost; about careers that soared but also, in Joe's case, faltered over the difficult issue of Vietnam.
In Taking On the World, Robert W. Merry, himself a Washington insider, has fashioned an intricate and fascinating combination of biography and narrative history. As Merry puts it, &'grave;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 on one of the most tumultuous periods of the country's history.
Michael Beschloss, Newsweek
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