James Murphy's Reviews > Journals, 1952-2000

Journals, 1952-2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
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Feb 12, 2012

it was amazing
Read from February 12 to April 19, 2012

Arthur M Schlesinger Jr was a part of American history during the 2d half of the 20th century. Aware that he was part of significant events, he recorded the history he was part of, beginning with the first presidential bid of Adlai Stevenson. This is a political journal rather than a personal one. Occasional noteworthy family items make their way into these pages, but it's not about himself. His journal is about those he knew in government and public life. And it's about what they think, not what he thought.

By recording in some detail the activities and revealed thinking of those figures he came into contact with, he provides a narrative of many sides of domestic and foreign policy. He was aware that there are many currents within government and didn't expect to swim in policy thinking after the Kennedy years. He was a speechwriter for the president and remained close to the family after the assassinations of JFK and Robert. What he has to say about the Kennedys through the years is fascinating reading, all of it positive because he truly admired them. There's not even a hint of the sexual irregularities said to have been common with John. Either Schlesinger didn't know or he chose to keep it to himself. He knew Marilyn Monroe and wrote a moving entry at the time of her death. A logical time for revelations, had he been aware of her importance to JFK, the entry's genuine sadness convinces that he knew nothing. Even when he writes of show business acquaintances, even when Norman Mailer swaggers through several entries, there's little gossip here. Certainly when considering public servants, of both parties, Schlesinger was more likely to report on an individual's sense of duty and honest answering of the call to serve the country. He sees that demonstrated by most of the political figures through the years. He's generous with his praise. Those he disliked often received disdain dripping like venom--LBJ, Nixon. He disliked Carter so much he refused to vote in the 1976 presidential election.

He didn't always have the details of some grand events. An insider of the Kennedy White House, he knew very little about the Cuban missile crisis, for instance. On the other hand, some prominent people talked openly to him and he dutifully recorded their ideas. Such reporting of conversations with Kissinger, a close friend, sheds light on thinking about Vietnam and the opening of China. And the personality of Richard Nixon. He knew very little about the military affairs of those years, particularly Vietnam. So, guided only by his own historian's intuition and the conversation of knowledgeable acquaintances, he has little to say. He knew, though, that a government of the people is made up of people and the parade of politicians and notables who directed America troop noisily through his entries. As they move through public life they create eddies and history. Schlesinger records it all, from Stevenson's first defeat to the final days of Clinton's administration.
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