When he was a student at Harvard in the 1930s, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. decided that history was “the only possible career” for him. But he wanted to be part of the political world as well. During the next 70 years, he played a unique role in American life as a historian-participant. Acknowledged as one of the foremost historians and public intellectuals of the postwar era, he received two Pulitzer Prizes (his first, for The Age of Jackson, was awarded when he was 28) and two National Book Awards. He expressed his views as a liberal activist in books and essays and as a speechwriter for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. But he is perhaps best known for his work as a special assistant to President John Kennedy and author of A Thousand Days, a Pulitzer winner and bestselling account of life in the Kennedy administration. The book remains a primary source for the Kennedy legacy, and it brought him both praise and criticism as one of the great political image-makers.
Historian Richard Aldous brings the man and his extraordinary life of influence and controversy vividly to life in his meticulously researched and consistently enlightening Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian. Early in Schlesinger’s life, he became a keen observer and literary stylist. In the White House, Kennedy sought his counsel on some contemporary matters, but Kennedy had a longer view in mind, for as the president often said, “history depends on who writes it.” A Harvard professor and the author of highly regarded books on Frederick D. Roosevelt, whose work JFK admired and whom he liked as a person, seemed like the perfect White House historian. Kennedy told Schlesinger that his most important job was to keep a record of administration activity. The historian set up procedures to capture information and always kept index cards with him.
Schlesinger’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his books, including The Imperial Presidency and his biography of Robert Kennedy, are also explored in detail in this insightful and engaging look at one of the most influential historians of his time.