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The book's organization is superb. Appropriately, it first discusses the Founding Fathers' likely intentions in regard to the Presidency and where they disagreed amongst themselves. Next it explains the Presidency and its war power, tracing its development through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, and paying special attention to the Second World War, the Korean War and Vietnam. Most of a 64-page chapter is devoted to President Richard M. Nixon's radical ideas and practices. Democracy and foreign policy is then treated, followed by the Presidency and its powers of secrecy, and finally, the Presidency and its future. As these subjects are dealt with, many facts are thrown at the reader, the totality being hard to absorb. Fortunately, nothing is explained in isolation. The author constantly backtracks, providing new historical context and rehashing material already covered. This practice, plus good organization and a high degree of literary skill (Dr. Schlesinger can *write*), make this book highly readable.
Of particular interest is Dr. Schlesinger's discussion of philosopher John Locke's idea of presidential prerogative, of which I was previously unaware (and which I am still mulling over). This is the view that extraordinary national emergencies create temporary exceptions to normal constitutional restrictions on a president's power to act. This prerogative is supposed to come into play during clear threats to the republic that require immediate action and that are recognized by Congress and the people as legitimate emergencies; a president is also supposed to submit himself to the judgment of Congress (e.g., for possible impeachment) after exercising this prerogative, and not pretend that he had been acting within the Constitution (which might set a dangerous precedent). This idea is important because of its influence on the Founding Fathers, who were steeped in Locke, and because of its consequences. Correctly or not, President Abraham Lincoln invoked it during the Civil War, as did President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. President Richard M. Nixon also made use of it... with far less justification.
Dr. Schlesinger's treatment of President Nixon, the size of whose index entry dwarfs that of any other topic in the book, is also fascinating. Dr. Schlesinger clearly is appalled by the man and devotes many pages to his schenanigans and his almost monarchical views of Presidential power. He demonstrates just how significant a departure was the Presidency under Nixon from the Presidency as conceived by the Founding Fathers. In a statement that is very true, Dr. Schlesinger calls Nixon's Presidency "a culmination, not an aberration, and potentially the best thing to have happened to the Presidency in a long time" (paraphrasing from memory, since I lost the page). It is unfortunate that Congress did not make the most of Watergate and put the Presidency into its proper place (e.g., see its shameful War Powers Act or the Presidency of Bill Clinton). This, Congress's own role in the expansion of Presidential power (its unwise, Cold War-inspired delegation of foreign policy discretion to the Presidency, its evasion of responsibility, its cowardice, etc.), is also given just and ample treatment.
I am concerned about Dr. Schlesinger's possible biases. He discloses, for example, that he was an aide in President John F. Kennedy's administration, and indeed his view of Kennedy's Presidency is relatively rosey. He is also kind to President Roosevelt and must admire him, else he would not be a leading member of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. And as David S. Wyman contends in his definitive history of America's response to the Holocaust, *The Abandonment of the Jews*, Dr. Schlesinger has long maintained (though it does not come up in this volume) that Roosevelt did all he could to save European Jews from the Nazis during World War II--in utter contradiction of the facts.
My main criticism of *The Imperial Presidency* is theoretical. I am a strict constructionist, Dr. Schlesinger believes in a looser, evolutionary interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. He says as much in his first chapter. Quoting President Woodrow Wilson--that despot of democracy whose own collectivist impulses and subversion of the Constitution forced our American boys into the bloody trenches of a European war--he objects to the Constitution's being treated as "a mere legal document, to be read as a will or contract," and advocates that its meaning be determined "by the exigencies and the new aspects of life itself." I will state here simply that under this view of the Constitution, the document's meaning becomes anything anybody at any time wishes it to be--in which case it loses all utility, we might as well have no Constitution and kiss our individual rights goodbye to unscrupulous men and prevailing philosophies that might not, in fact, be in our best interest. We have the power of Amendment for a reason. I dare not speculate how Dr. Schlesinger's beliefs might have affected his scholarship. I will note with irony, however, that the constitutional views he expouses have greatly contributed to the "imperial presidency" he so decries. Was Nixon the chief culprit in Watergate--or was he the culmination of intellectuals like Dr. Schlesinger?
Despite these criticisms, there is more good in *The Imperial Presidency* than bad. I will repeatedly refer back to it whenever I have questions about what powers our presidents have and how they got them. I might buy a more recent edition. Mine was published shortly after Watergate, the constitutional crisis that occasioned the book's writing, but according to Amazon.com's description of it, it is supposed to cover the Presidency through Ronald Reagan. My curiosity is piqued.
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"Lincoln the War President" is certainly a thoughtful collection of essays that are enhanced by a concerted effort to put Lincoln's situation and actions in context, trying to keep an eye on the "big picture." In that regard the comparisons to other times and places are useful for helping history students appreciate Lincoln's virtues. While this is a book that students of Lincoln and Civil War buffs will enjoy, it should prove just as interesting to casual students of American History. The arguments it presents would certainly be provocative for both high school and college students to consider. Consequently, these essays would provide teachers with great supplementary material for teaching about Lincoln and the Civil War.
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Yet, I must say, I admired Howells' novel very much. It is not for those who require action, sex, or dramatic events. Rather, it is a slice of life of the period, of the place, of family life and social repartee that may be unequalled. Though Howells claimed to be a "realist" and he is often spoken of, it seems, as one of such a school in American literature, the novel oscillates between extremely vivid descriptions of all varieties of life in New York, humanist philosophizing, and mild melodrama, thus, I would not class it as a truly realist novel in the same sense as say, "McTeague" by Frank Norris. Howells had the American optimism, the reluctance to dwell on the darker sides of human nature. This novel may draw accusations, then, of naivete. I think that would be short-sighted. Henry James and Faulkner might be deeper psychologically and Hemingway more sculpted, but Howells sometimes puts his finger right on the very essence of American ways of thinking and on American character. Some sections, like for instance the long passage on looking for an apartment in New York-over thirty pages---simply radiate genius. The natural gas millionaire and his shrewish daughter; the gung-ho, go-getter manager of the magazine; the dreamy, but selfish artists, the Southern belle---all these may be almost stock characters in 20th century American letters, but can never have been better summarized than here. Two statements made by Basil March, a literary editor married into an old Boston family, sum up the feel of A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES, a novel that takes great cognizance of the potential for change in people (always an optimist's point of view). First, he says, "There's the making of several characters in each of us; we are each several characters and sometimes this character has the lead in us, and sometimes that." And lastly, he says "I don't know what it all means, but I believe it means good." Howells was no doubt a sterling man and this, perhaps his best novel, reflects that more than anything else.
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His book is a seminal work, important for all, especially whites, such as myself, whose culture has defined the dominant culture in America for 200 years. Change and inclusion are good things. The road to a united America falls on both the natives to accept newcomers and the newcomers to accept the democratic American principles and not form antagonistic enclaves separate from the whole.
Referencing multiculturalism he asks if it is the school's function to teach racial pride? When does obsession with difference threaten identity? Since this 1993 book this obsession has become an educational standard. Our calendar is split into months for one race pride or another (except white and European). It starts early - believing the purpose of history is therapeutic. He notes, "Once ethnic pride and self-esteem become the criterion for teaching history then certain things cannot be taught." Schlesinger asks the question, "Why does anyone suppose that pride and inspiration are available only from people of the same ethnicity?" One wonders.
Schlesinger's core warning is the same as that of the Founders, that "the virus of tribalism lies dormant, flaring up to destroy entire nations." But that has not stopped the derailment of Civil Rights. As Schlesinger notes, Black America's valid leaders - like so much from the Left that began for the right reasons - have been hijacked for the benefits of opposition, not unification.
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This books includes many photographs from this era. Some are clear, but many are not. It also includes an index. Although this book will be useful for children that are researching the topic, it will not be easy for them to use due to the vocabulary and low interest level. Buy if you need information on this subject.
Part of the Cultural and Geographical Exploration series by National Geographic.
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There are high points and low points to this book. His experiences at Harvard, worn torn Europe, and the ideological battles between communists and liberals over control of the American left were fascinating. However, we are also privy to every movie, play, book, and cocktail dinner that schlesinger ever attended. It's interesting to gain this perspective, but it gets tedious. This book could have used substantial editing.
I'm a Schlesinger fan, but I skimmed through many pages. Despite these shortcoming, Schlesinger still imparts his genious.
The book is a little long (557 pages). The parts concerning his early boyhood, books read, movies seen etc. can get tedious. However, his account of his trip around the world at age 16 with his father, also a noted historian, is facinating.
Schlesinger is an unabashed anti communist, New Deal style liberal. His first great book, The Age of Jackson, won the Pulitzer Prize. In it, as in later works, his sympathies, along with Jackson, lay with the working classes as opposed to the bastions of capital, aristocracy and monopoly. Schlesinger sees a pattern of similarity of reform between the Jacksonians, the Progressives of the early twentieth century, and the New Dealers. (His later books on FDR and JFK are exceedingly sypathetic treatments of his subjects as liberal realists.) This well researched and well written book is still used in college classes today. I read it in a graduate course on the age of Jackson in the late sixties.
After World War II, Schlesinger became one of the leaders of the non -communist left. His book, The Vital Center, written in 1949 was an appeal to liberal democracy, in opposition to the twin totalitarian systems of fascism and Stalinism. At the close of the present book, he states that his philosophy is still consistent with The Vital Center and he would make few changes in it even after fifty years.
In short, A Life in the 20th Century is a good read for history junkies. Schlesinger has been at the forefront of history and history makers and his insights on people and events are always enlightening and entertaining. I look forward to the publication of the second volume.
I would especially recommend this book to anyone interested in either twentieth century history or twentienth century American culture.