Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: NYT raves about his journals





In 1962 the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. was able to comment with equal assurance on both of the Monroes within his orbit: Marilyn (as in “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”) and James (as in Monroe Doctrine). What’s more, he made these unrelated remarks closely enough in time for them to appear on the same page of the 894-page new volume of his journals.

This arch, irresistibly revealing book manages to be both showstopping and doorstopping, what with its vast range of subject matter and unfettered private sniping. Mr. Schlesinger, who died on Feb. 28, appears to have spent almost five decades patiently squirreling away aphorisms, aperçus and other people’s back-channel conversations, confident that one day he would have a posthumous bombshell to his credit.

Although “Journals: 1952-2000” has been greatly and speedily pared down by his sons Andrew and Stephen Schlesinger, who took on this project less than a year ago and have cut the material to one-sixth of its original length, its ambitions seem clear. The author, who could be described as either a treasured historian or “the power-loving stablemate of statesmen” (his own sardonic phrase), did not intend this as a profound, analytical work or a deeply personal one.

Instead, candor and spontaneity are its highest priorities, even at the expense of consistency. Thus these journals place the author’s second wedding and the release of the Pentagon Papers on the same footing. They are lumped together, in the language of an overscheduled but determined diarist, as “two events of more than routine importance in recent weeks.”...


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