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Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary Paperback – October 23, 2012

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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 energ

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610392175
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610392174
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Read it at your leisure by your bedside, and be prepared to be enlightened.
Richad of Connecticut
Had Dahrendorf thought about extending a Societas Erasmiana of great liberals to his own age cohort, he no doubt would have included Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Michael Altenburg
I'd have to say that this is like curling up with chocolate on a winter day..... A treat!
Luis M. Torres

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Richad 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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