Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: A Schmoozer Shares All

Historians in the News

In recent years, keeping political diaries has fallen out of fashion. I blame this on a young Clinton-era Treasury aide named Josh Steiner, whose private journal was subpoenaed in a long-forgotten scandal. Anyone interested in history will suffer for the decline of this art form (and no, blogging is not a substitute). To see what we may be missing in the future, consider the astonishing case of the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Shortly before he died earlier this year, he instructed two of his sons to prepare his diaries for publication. The resulting book, "Journals: 1952-2000," contains juicy morsels on every one of its 858 pages.

The entries are proof that a half century of dining regularly with important people—he was derided by his critics as a toadying schmoozer—can produce significant field research. Schlesinger somehow managed to turn out 18 trenchant works of history while enjoying his martini, his steak and everyone else's finest gossip. He was a warm and generous man, but when he jotted down his observations, look out! The book contains not just his witty aperçus, but those of hundreds of A-list friends, some of whom are still alive and will blanch at seeing private lunches in print.

The presidential scuttlebutt is prime. Harry Truman insults Picasso and is perplexed by Matisse, whose paintings he describes as "the virgin with a couple of big tits hanging out of her dress." The 1952 and 1956 loser Adlai Stevenson, for whom Schlesinger wrote speeches, is a man of "portentous generalization." On the day JFK was shot in 1963 (Schlesinger learned of it while dining with NEWSWEEK editors in New York), Stevenson, who thought Kennedy had mistreated him, was "smiling and chipper," a lapse that will "take me long to forgive," Schlesinger writes....
Read entire article at Jonathan Alter in Newsweek

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