A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917 - 1950

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $28.95 (576p) ISBN 978-0-395-70752-4
Schlesinger's memoir covers the first 33 years of a life spent as a public thinker and historian. Born into a world of intellectual privilege, Schlesinger was exposed from his earliest years to literature and, through his father's work as a historian, to scholarship. The author recounts how his education at an elite prep school, a year-long trip around the world, and then at Harvard and Cambridge. Drawn to American history, Schlesinger wrote on Orestes Brownson and Andrew Jackson, and spent his war years as a political analyst for the OSS. Scattered through the chronology are ruminations on fads in historical interpretation, movies as the American art form, the pleasures of the martini and many other side points of interest and charm. Schlesinger recounts his interactions with an impressive array of personalities eminent in politics, academia and society; the scores of character sketches he furnishes are, in nearly all instances, sympathetic and affectionate. For Schlesinger, his personal experience, like American history, has been marked by, as Joyce said in Finnegan's Wake, a ""commodius vicus of recirculation."" He explains how people he met early in his career turn up again in a later era, just as a school of historical interpretation will fall out of favor only to be rediscovered by the next generation of historians. Schlesinger's personal and intellectual life validates his theory of circularity, except in one key respect: the author started as an anticommunist, liberal New Dealer, and he has adhered to these convictions ever since. The engaging and sophisticated volume explains how these principles were acquired and why they continue to command Schlesinger's assent. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/20/2000
Release date: 11/01/2000
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