Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Legacy

I never expected to write a memoir. But age puts one in a contemplative mood, and the onset of the millenium induces reconsiderations of a traumatic century. I have lived through interesting times and had the luck of knowing some interesting people. And I concluded that if I were ever to do a memoir, I had better do it while I can still remember anything.--A Life in the 20th Century

He was never elected president of the American Historical Association, a sore subject with many that came up again at the recent Atlanta convention. But Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was without doubt one of the most influential historians of his generation. He was certainly the most famous. He is remembered as a public intellectual, stellar writer, confident liberal, and as the author of seminal books on four presidents--Jackson, FDR, JFK, and Nixon.

What do you think of Schlesinger ... and his legacy? Drop down to the bottom of this page to comment.

Reviews of his Journals

  • David Kaiser: A Lost World--the Journals of Arthur Schlesinger

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: His journals reviewed in NY Review of Books

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: His friendship with Justice Jackson explored by Jackson biographer

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: His journals reviewed by Sid Blumenthal

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Journal excerpts published by Vanity Fair

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Journals reviewed by Douglas Brinkley

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Journals reviewed in the NYT by Maureen Dowd

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: A Schmoozer Shares All

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Was mum about his journals for years

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: NYT raves about his journals

    Obituaries, Remembrances

  • As remembered by Jon Meacham

  • As remembered by Eric Alterman

  • As remembered by Victor Navasky

  • As remembered by E.J. Dionne

  • As remembered by Norman Birnbaum

  • Clare L. Spark: Arthur Schlesinger’s Missing Vital Center

  • Roosevelt biographer remembered

  • As remembered by Henry Graff

  • Mary Dudziak: Are There No More Schlesingers?

  • As remembered by Sam Tanenhaus

  • As remembered by Sean Wilentz

  • As remembered by Bill Buckley

  • Still unpublished ... years and years of personal diaries

  • Vernon Horn at the AHA Blog: Schlesinger, Dead at 89

  • Robert B. Semple, Jr.: A Historian’s Valedictory

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Exchange between Norman Podhoretz & Ron Radosh

  • Jonathan Zimmerman: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. ... The Public's Historian

  • Alonzo Hamby: Arthur Schlesinger ... The Last Progressive

  • David Greenberg: Not Just Camelot's Historian ... The vibrant scholarship of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

  • Frederic Smoler: Interview with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1992)

  • New York Times Obit

  • Reuters Obit

  • Washington Post Obit

  • Associated Press Obit

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    More Comments:

    omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

    Schlesinger's book about ROBERT Kennedy is the only book I read for him.
    I came out with the impression of the extraorinarily humane figure of Robert Kennedy and a hugely missed opportunity for the USA to change. To change away from its roots of natives decimation and land usurpation, money idolization into a humane super power with the means to redress historical misdeeds and grieviances.
    Redress , NOT through unmaking of history, but through atonement by upholding justice world wide.
    The USA and the world is the poorer for that missed opportunity; that is what I got from reading Schlesinger.

    michael wreszin - 3/5/2007

    Those interested in my views of Arthur Schlesinger jr. can find an extensive piece on him in Salmagundi Spring Summer 1984. Schlesinger started out as a brilliant young historian. His honors thesis at Harvard on Orestes Brownson was an extremely insightful work by a very young scholar. His Age of Jackson was a very fine book, it may be the best piece of history that he wrote despite serious challenges by subsequent scholars. If I had only one book to read on that age it would be Schlesinger's. Of course his three volumes on the Age of Roosevelt are marvelously well written, full of interesting peripheral data but are ideologically driven so that any critical edge is lost. After that it became clear that Schlesinger really did not care for the academic life, he relished the world of power and that is the world he served. As Alfred Kazin noted he was interested in history as "seen from the top, from the inside, among the policy makers." It was his friend Richard Rovere who named him "the court philosopher." He was an insider in the establishment and when it was controlled by the democrats ( with the exception of Carter) he wrote mostly hagiography. His books on the Kennedys have no critical edge at all. On another score Schlesinger was a most eloquent and vehement cold warrior. He played hard ball cold war politics with vengeance. Constantly charging radicals with Stalinism, fellow traveling and even cooperating with the FBI and other investigators to expose and even have people fired for their alleged communist sympathies. Attacking people like Carey McWilliams "a typhoid Mary of the left", Victor Navasky, Freda Kirchwey, I. F. Stone et al surely served no useful purpose. In this role there were times when he was not a great liberal defender of civil liberties. The fact that he spent more time attacking the radical left than he did the right helps explain the ultimate demise of the liberalism he championed. With the destruction of the left liberalism moved more and more to the center, more to the right, compromised values and indeed lost its fighting faith. That he had indeed been a brilliant history there is no doubt. But he really left the historical profession and thus it is not at all surprising that he was never elected to head a major historical association.

    Jason B Keuter - 3/2/2007

    Among his accomplishments, Arthur Schlesigner's criticism of the illiberal excesses of the "new" history has to be counted as significant. His often seemed a lone voice of reason speaking for the right to reason, which is the essence of liberalism.

    Lee Nash - 3/1/2007

    One of the less-remembered legacies of Schlesinger is the unrelievedly negative image of Herbert Hoover that he stamped on the public mind in the first volume of his AGE OF ROOSEVELT, THE CRISIS OF THE OLD ORDER (recently republished by the History Book Club as a classic). He acquainted us with a Hoover who misunderstood the depression and did nothing about it, Hoover the unthinking reactionary, Hoover the inhumane elitist, Hoover who endangered the Republic and was one of our two or three very worst presidents. It is testimony to Schlesinger's standing and influence that the historical profession at large as well as the general public still picture Hoover in the shadows of failure and disgrace, disregarding the corrective scholarship of the last 30+ years in scores of books.

    Lee Nash

    HNN - 3/1/2007

    Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr.
    October 15, 1917—February 28, 2007

    Junior Fellow, Harvard Professor of History,
    Resident Historian in the Kennedy Presidency,
    Celebrated Author and Historian,

    was a Member of the Board of Directors of The Concord Review, Inc.

    He once wrote that this journal “offers young historians a unique incentive
    to think and write carefully and well, and it should be in every high school in the land.”

    In every way, he was an inspiration and a friend to our efforts, and he will be missed.

    HNN - 3/1/2007

    What was his legacy? Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was a preminent great eastern liberal, a superb scholar who penetrated to the essence of interpretive historical problems. His books on Jackson and other key democratic figures need no amplification . But I would like to point to his essay in a collection called The Causes of the Civil War. "If slavery is not wrong," he wrote, "Nothing is wrong." His passing leaves us profoundly in his debt--and proud to be there.

    George Robert Gaston - 3/1/2007

    I read "A Thousand Days" in the late 1960s. It left me wondering if Schlesinger and I were remembering the same events. I suppose one of the more dangerous things a historian can do is not letting enough time pass between the event and the writing.

    Young today people are often surprised to find that a fair number of people who were their age when JFK was president do not view him as either particularly effective or noble.

    I think those who went on to become a part of what is now described as the "media" tended to be among those who have turned Kennedy into a godlike figure. It appears many of them have used Schlesinger as the touchstone of their view of John Kennedy.

    This, in its own way, is appropriate, a media acceptable view of history for a media created president.