Journals: 1952–2000

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., Author, Andrew Schlesinger, Editor, Stephen Schlesinger, Editor Penguin Press $40 (894p) ISBN 978-1594201424

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 weighty memoirs will mesmerize political junkies; even lay readers will be charmed and fascinated by Schlesinger's take on the 20th century's last half. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 12/31/2007
Release date: 11/01/2007
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