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A memoir of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian considers events that occurred during his lifetime and that contributed to America's rise to world power status, as told through his personal experiences in childhood, in college, and during war times. 50,000 first printing.
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ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR., the author of sixteen books, was a renowned historian and social critic. He twice won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1946 for The Age of Jackson and in 1966 for A Thousand Days. He was also the winner of the National Book Award for both A Thousand Days and Robert Kennedy and His Times (1979). In 1998 he was awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I NEVER EXPECTED to write a memoir. But age puts one in a
contemplative mood, and the onset of the millennium 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.
This volume covers the first half of the twentieth century --
initially through the eyes of my parents, for I didn"t make the scene
till the century was seventeen years old; thereafter through my own
eyes and memories. Of course, little is more treacherous than memory.
Can one always distinguish between what one personally remembers and
what one is later told? or is led to imagine? Jean Negulesco, the
painter and film director, called his memoir Things I Did . . . and
Things I Think I Did. The generic title for all memoirs should be
Things I Remember . . . and Things I Think I Remember.
The past is, alas, beyond retrieval. Wordsworth had it right
in the Tintern Abbey poem: "I cannot paint / What then I was." And
what one becomes reconstructs what one was. Stephen Dedalus muses on
June 16, 1904, to the Quaker librarian: "In the future, the sister of
the past, I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from
that which I shall be." One can only draw so much from the murky
wells of memory. Autobiography in the end is an interrogation of the
past by the present.
It is not always clear, moreover, which counts more in later
life -- the reality or the recollection. In 1850 Charles Francis
Adams took his twelve-year-old son by railway coach and steamboat
from Boston to Washington. Sixty years later, in the greatest of
American autobiographies, Henry Adams described the journey -- at
least, he quickly added, the journey as he remembered it: "The actual
journey may have been quite different, but the actual journey has no
interest for education. The memory was all that mattered." This
remains the autobiographer"s dilemma.
As a historian, I well know the fallibility of memory. I
remember lunching one day with Dean Acheson when he was writing his
superb memoir, Present at the Creation. He seemed more than usually
wrathful. "I had a most disconcerting morning," he said, calling
urgently for a dry martini. "I was writing about the decision in 1941
to freeze Japanese assets in the United States" -- the decision that,
we now know, led the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. "I have the
most vivid memory of the meeting in President Roosevelt"s office. The
President was sitting at his desk; Cordell Hull [the secretary of
state] was sitting opposite him; I was in a chair by the Secretary"s
side. I can close my eyes and see the scene," he said, closing his
eyes. "But my damned secretary, Miss Evans, checked the record and
found that Mr. Hull had the flu and was off in White Sulphur Springs
recuperating. He wasn"t at the meeting at all. I can"t believe it."
Free-wheeling raconteurs -- and Acheson was one of the best --
improve their tales until telling reorganizes reality. Conscientious
memoirists -- and Acheson was one of the best -- check the record. As
a historian, I felt a professional obligation to supplement and
rectify memory by recourse to documents. I have tried in effect to
write a biography of myself as if I were writing a biography of
I have diaries and aides-mémoires kept intermittently over
the long years (how I wish I had kept them more faithfully). My
mother, Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, preserved letters and
memorabilia going back to my childhood. Both my mother and Marian
Cannon Schlesinger, my first wife, saved letters written from
overseas during the Second World War. A succession of expert
secretaries -- Julie Jeppson Ludwig at Harvard in the 1950s, Gretchen
Stewart in Washington and New York in the 1960s, Dianne Sikorski,
Mary Chifriller, Julia Galea, in later years -- maintained orderly
files, most of which are now in the John F. Kennedy Library in
Boston. I have benefited from the cooperation of other libraries
holding papers of people with whom I corresponded. Since I have
written about some events in other connections, I have not hesitated
on occasion to recycle past recollections for this memoir.
And as a historian I am tempted to widen the focus and
interweave the life with the times in some reasonable, melodious and
candid balance. Some may find the division into decades arbitrary;
indeed, I find such division hard to justify on theoretical grounds.
Yet, practically speaking, who can deny that the Twenties in the
United States were different from the Thirties or the Fifties from
the Sixties? Decades, like generations, often have, or acquire,
identities of their own.
For the author, the great enticement of memoirs, I suppose,
is the voyage of self-discovery. After all, as Gibbon said in his
autobiography, "No one is so well qualified as myself to describe the
series of my thoughts and actions." The voyage, however, never
reaches its destination. In the end, no one can really know oneself --
or anyone else either.
Still, as Mark Twain once wrote to William Dean Howells, "An
autobiography is the truest of all books, for while it inevitably
consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth,
partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain
straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines."
ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR.
Copyright © 2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
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