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Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary Hardcover – October 12, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Weisman, a public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute (The Great Tax Wars) has accomplished an extraordinary feat in assembling this selection from among 10,000 pages of letters bequeathed by Senator Moynihan to the Library of Congress. Weisman provides a short overview of Moynihan's life and an introduction to each of his letters. In a moving epilogue, Maura Moynihan puts it best. Despite an active political life, her father, she says, was first and foremost a writer. "He wrote every day-even at Christmas." Not only was Moynihan's correspondence voluminous (he saved copies of every letter he wrote), he also authored several controversial books (Miles to Go, Secrecy and Family and Nation among them). Although he was a Democrat, and a member of JFK's White House, he also served as an advisor to Richard Nixon, an ambassador to India, a professor at Harvard, and was elected to the senate four times. With correspondence that begins in 1951 when Moynihan, upon finishing college after a stint in the Navy, attended the London School of Economics on a Fulbright scholarship, and ends shortly before his death in 2003, this collection is not only a tremendous resource to scholars, but an invaluable window into the mind and heart of an extraordinary man.


The Economist, September 18, 2010
“There can be no better bedside collection for anyone who is interested in the history of America and the world in the second half of the 20th century—or in a life lived bravely.”

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30, 2010
“Unfortunately, Moynihan never wrote [a memoir]. The closest thing we have is his voluminous correspondence, collected for the first time in Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”

Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker
“‘Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary’ (PublicAffairs; $35) will probably be read more widely and for longer, and certainly with greater pleasure, than any of the others on the Moynihan shelf… The Moynihan papers are the largest one-man collection in the Library of Congress—ten thousand pages, enough to lay a paper trail from the White House to the Capitol. From this mother lode of foolscap, the journalist Steven R. Weisman has sculpted a work of coherence and energy… [The] tensions and crosscuttings make for a stimulating book, just as they made for an adventurous mind and an eventful life.”

David Brooks, New York Times Book Review
“His letters recorded the evolving intellectual adventure of a restless mind. Moynihan explored the grand themes of history and tried to understand the times in the most ambitious of ways: the cultural implications of the shift from the industrial to the post-industrial society, the disaffection of the intellectual class, the foreign policy implications of ethnic tension in the post-communist world… The letters make for absorbing reading because Moynihan’s grand ideas were always driven by his own internal tensions. It was as if he were writing an intensely personal memoir but was phrasing his discoveries in the language of Samuel Huntington…. This whole collection has been put together with superb care. While writing this review, I’ve been cursing Weisman’s introduction for its mastery in highlighting all the crucial points in Moynihan’s life. It is hard to write anything about this book that doesn’t repeat that fine essay. Weisman has also written superb contextual paragraphs between the letters, so even people unfamiliar with Moynihan’s career will be able to follow along easily…He remains an exemplar for those who find that their lives and views don’t fit neatly into a partisan camp, a guiding model for hybrids past and future.”
Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times
“Students of history, philosophy and literature will find it hard to resist Mr. Moynihan’s endless musings and eyewitness accounts of pivotal moments in 20th-century history, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to India’s ascent as a nuclear power.” 
The Economist
“There can be no better bedside collection for anyone who is interested in the history of America and the world in the second half of the 20th century—or in a life lived bravely.”
George F. Will, Washington Post (syndicated)
“Today, seven years after Moynihan's death, conservatism's contention is that liberal politics produces a culture of dependency and a government riddled with rent-seeking -- the manipulation of government power for private advantage. Would that Moynihan were here to elevate the liberal side of the debate, as he did throughout his well-lived life.” 
Michael Kinsley, Politico
“A new collection of Moynihan’s letters and journals has just been published by Public Affairs, elegantly edited by former New York Times reporter Steven R. Weisman… George Will has already skimmed the cream of Moynihan quotes and, quite rightly, praised Moynihan’s eloquence and brilliant insights. His accomplishments are well-known. That leaves me with the scraps. But what scraps!” 
Charles Horner, Wall Street Journal
“Across the years, Moynihan generated a mountain of words—including books, journal articles and magazine pieces (e.g., the famous 1993 "Defining Deviancy Down"). The Moynihan family asked Steven R. Weisman, a friend and a former New York Times reporter, to make a selection from Moynihan's thousands of letters, as well as from his occasional memorandums and journal entries. The result is "Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary." Mr. Weisman has worked very hard—commendably so—to fashion his portrait, giving us first-person glimpses of one of the most combative, intellectually engaged and restless public figures of our time.” 
John Avlon, The Daily Beast
“This is an autobiography written in real time. It offers a portrait of an American civic original, with an exuberant personality and a vibrant mind, both an optimist and a skeptic, full of a passion for putting ideas into action. And while the book doubles as an intimate history of the second half of the 20th century, its primary impact on me was something more than nostalgia: it made realize how much we need more Moynihans in our politics.”
Bob Lenzner, Forbes
“A current celebration of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's ebullient life as an academic, diplomat, White House advisor, author and, finally, as a senator, underscores the lack of wisdom, wit, civility and vision that prevails today in the legislature today. Stand advised to do yourself a favor by acquiring the just-published, "Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Portrait In Letters of An American Visionary." It's an invaluable history lesson and bewitching as well.”
“Daniel Patrick Moynihan served as an ambassador, a senator, and an adviser to four presidents. Along the way he faithfully recorded his thoughts—trenchant, frank, and often very funny—in a substantial and revealing private correspondence… Moynihan (1927–2003) had a way of putting his finger on things. He was one of the most original figures in American public life…Moynihan once got into an altercation on the Senate floor, but his weapon of choice was words. He poured them into letters, diaries, and lengthy memoranda to his colleagues and bosses among the powerful. Moynihan never wrote an autobiography, but his private, unpublished writings serve as a personal testament.” 
Chronicle of Higher Education
“Unfortunately, Moynihan never wrote [a memoir]. The closest thing we have is his voluminous correspondence, collected for the first time in Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”
Michael Sigman, Huffington Post
“Open to any page of the just-released book and you may be touched by Moynihan’s humanism; tickled by his self-deprecating humor; awed by his intellectual prowess and writerly cadence; saddened by the fact that no public official would dare say these kinds of things today; impressed by his unabashed and courageous social liberalism or infuriated by his hawkish foreign policy views.” 

Washington Monthly

“Throughout every page of the letters but the last hundred or so, when grouchiness takes over, Moynihan is a delight to read. He was a gifted writer, funny, wry, quick with an allusion and good with a phrase, even as he stoked his own legend and trumpeted his prescience.” 
George Weigel, First Things
“His letters reintroduce us to Pat Moynihan’s scintillating intellect, sparkling wit, and penetrating insight into some the great issues of the late 20th century…Daniel Patrick Moynihan was one of the five or 10 most influential public intellectuals of the past half-century, a man whose ideas eventually worked themselves into the hard soil of public policy.” 
The New Nixon (blog)
“At a moment like this, the President might find it useful to set aside his copy of Freedom (able novelist though Jonathan Franzen is) and instead acquire an advance copy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan… Whether as a professor, Presidential advisor, ambassador (to India and, memorably, the United Nations) or in his quarter-century as US Senator from New York, Pat Moynihan addressed the issues of the day in memorable prose, brimming with common sense and uncommon insight.”
CIO Magazine, November 16, 2010
“immensely worthwhile… Moynihan's letters provide a glimpse into the thinking of a remarkable brain, and an insider's view of some of the most remarkable political events of the 20th century.”

Syracuse Post-Herald, November 27, 2010
“Maura believes her father knew his letters would someday be published. Many were written with such passion that Weisman said “you can almost hear the typewriter banging around.” Yet the challenge Weisman faced bordered on the overwhelming: He needed to craft a living, breathing portrait from shelves upon shelves of documents. Twelve Maxwell students, in that haystack, found the soul of Maura’s dad.”

Buffalo News, November 28, 2010
“The book is a rich treasury of the thoughts, casual and profound, of an elected official who in many ways seemed straight out of the best tradition of our early 19th century leaders.”

Daily Beast, November 25, 2010
“Moynihan's ...

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488017
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with caution. It is a book of select letters written by the late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan who served 18 years in the Congress. The Senator also happened to be a Harvard professor, and Presidential adviser to JFK, LBJ, and Nixon before serving in the Congress. He is brilliant, literary, funny, prescient, and perhaps even clairvoyant.

This book will have a limited audience because of the subject matter, and although it will not be widely read, it will be read by those who are widely read. Moynihan was a gift to all of us, and our society will sorely miss his wisdom, and his advice. This will be true regardless of what side of the political fence you come from.

The book is composed of letters, some 700 of the 10,000 that were available to the editor, Steve Wiseman. It was left to the editor, in his selection process to give us a flavor for who the Senator was, a man who never wrote his own biography. He did however author 18 thought provoking books, and it seems that the core of those books is revealed through these letters.

Each letter has a brief sentence or two introduction setting the time and tone of when it was written. Remember, you are reading the exact words that Daniel Moynihan wrote. There's no editing, so he sometimes appears to be years ahead of his time because in fact he was. Some of the words in the letters are not politically correct. The word Negro was in common usage 50 years ago, and everybody including Martin Luther King was comfortable with it then, and not now.

The book is a living testament to the POWER OF IDEAS, because that is what Moynihan was all about. I have been told by his fellow Senators that he was the most gifted intellect in the Senate in 50 years.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Altenburg on January 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In March 2003, the month when he died at age 76, Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a memorandum summed up his credo about society and culture: The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. Thanks to this interaction, we're a better society in nearly all respects than we were."

This last piece in Steven R. Weisman's exquisite selection of Moynihan's letters, memoranda, diary entries, etc. says a lot about the man who was obsessed with both politics and ways to change them for the better. His daughter Maura, indeed, saw her father more as a writer than a politician. But he also served four presidents - John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford - as member of their cabinets or sub-cabinets, as ambassador in India and envoy to the United Nations. In addition, he represented New York for 24 years in the United States Senate. But the interaction between culture and politics would not have taken place without him having been a great writer and scholar at the same time.

Moynihan, an Irish Roman-Catholic, grew up poor in a single-parent family in New York, collecting cents on coke bottles, shining shoes on Times Square, later working on the piers of the East side as a longshoreman. Bright and ambitious, he attended City College of New York, joined the Navy in 1943, graduated from Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, studied at the London School of Economics as a Fulbright scholar and later became a professor at Syracuse University, MIT and Harvard.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By kkav on May 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Portrait in Letters is a diamond in the rough. In these pages you will find a man who was insightful and well respected on both sides of the aisle. Forget reading books strictly from the left or the right. All you're going to hear is what you already believe. Daniel Patrick Moynihan worked for both LBJ and Richard Nixon. His report on race relations in 1960s America was groundbreaking and his views on the welfare state were quite sobering. Moynihan was the eyes and ears of Washington and offered his insight, sometimes helpful, sometimes not, on a range of subjects. Presidents found his insight helpful and he was never at a loss for words.

For example, in an early letter to Richard Nixon, Moynihan explained the difference between liberty and equality in America. He said that we give liberty willingly, as evidenced by the Emancipation Proclomation. But equality is a different story. We don't always grant equality. This was the paradox Martin Luther King, Jr. explored. We are free but are we equal? Two simple concepts with decades of strife behind them.

This book contains Moynihan's private letters ranging from the very personal, such as his letters to Jackie Kennedy after JFK's death, to the most public such as Moynihan's desire for safety advocate Ralph Nader to come to Washington. In between are a treasure trove of great reading. I read a few of the letters each night and have trouble putting the book down. The book is so good because it doesn't try to be anything. It isn't Al Gore or Glenn Beck. It's just the ideas of a man who mattered. And unlike a lot of the political junk being pedaled today, this book will make you think. I like that.
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