cover image Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian

Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian

Richard Aldous. Norton, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-24470-0

Writing in a lively, incisive style worthy of his subject, Aldous (Reagan and Thatcher), a professor of history at Bard College, documents the life and work of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1917–2007), the liberal historian who championed the progressive tradition in American politics. Like his eminent historian father, the son became a professor at Harvard, where he made his scholarly reputation with the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Age of Jackson. He soon moved beyond the academy into politics, writing speeches for notable Democrats, most famously John F. Kennedy during the then-senator’s presidential run. The central chapters on Schlesinger’s role in the Kennedy White House, where his advice wasn’t always welcomed, and his composition of A Thousand Days, his tribute to the late president, are models of dramatic historical exposition. Aldous also touches on Schlesinger’s rivalry with fellow speechwriter Ted Sorensen. Readers learn only as much as they need to know about Schlesinger’s relationships with his parents, his two wives, and his five children. Whatever one’s opinion of Schlesinger as a political thinker, few will dispute Aldous’s concluding assessment of him “as one of the finest narrative historians America has ever produced.” It’s a judicious, balanced account that focuses on the high points of Schlesinger’s career. Agent: Georgina Capel, Georgina Capel Associates. (Oct.)