cover image The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography

The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography

Godfrey Hodgson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $38 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-395-86042-7

Though it may not rank as the definitive Moynihan biography, this informative study brings clarity to the Democratic senator's 24-year career as a legislator and his even longer career as a political thinker. Moynihan has called his career a series of ""chance encounters, random walks""; Hodgson (The World Turned Right Side Up), an Oxford-based historian and a friend of Moynihan's since 1962, manages to lend that random walk a narrative coherence. Giving a colorful if not always balanced account of the senator's extraordinary journey from the sidewalks of New York to the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Hodgson, who had access to the senator's political papers and personal letters, peppers his account liberally with charming anecdotes and vivid biographical details. He portrays, for example, a young Pat, back in New York City after three formative years at the London School of Economics, devouring cheese and onion sandwiches between beers at McSorley's Ale House. He also gives a nicely detailed account of Moynihan's momentous 1975 speech as delegate to the U.N., where he denounced anti-Semitism amid a furious debate over a resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism. And he follows the legislator as he went on to become, in the words of the New York Times, an ""aggressive debater, outrageous flatterer, shrewd adviser--indeed manipulator--of Presidents, accomplished diplomat and heartfelt friend of the poor."" Hodgson's summary of the senator's legislative record is uncritical, and his prose gets cumbersome in places. But as an eyewitness account of Moynihan's colorful career, this biography is a welcome achievement. (Aug.)