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A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917 - 1950 Hardcover – November 21, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (November 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395707528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395707524
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,472,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Schlesinger's memoir covers the first 33 years of a life spent as a public thinker and historian. Born into a world of intellectual privilege, Schlesinger was exposed from his earliest years to literature and, through his father's work as a historian, to scholarship. The author recounts how his education at an elite prep school, a year-long trip around the world, and then at Harvard and Cambridge. Drawn to American history, Schlesinger wrote on Orestes Brownson and Andrew Jackson, and spent his war years as a political analyst for the OSS. Scattered through the chronology are ruminations on fads in historical interpretation, movies as the American art form, the pleasures of the martini and many other side points of interest and charm. Schlesinger recounts his interactions with an impressive array of personalities eminent in politics, academia and society; the scores of character sketches he furnishes are, in nearly all instances, sympathetic and affectionate. For Schlesinger, his personal experience, like American history, has been marked by, as Joyce said in Finnegan's Wake, a "commodius vicus of recirculation." He explains how people he met early in his career turn up again in a later era, just as a school of historical interpretation will fall out of favor only to be rediscovered by the next generation of historians. Schlesinger's personal and intellectual life validates his theory of circularity, except in one key respect: the author started as an anticommunist, liberal New Dealer, and he has adhered to these convictions ever since. The engaging and sophisticated volume explains how these principles were acquired and why they continue to command Schlesinger's assent. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Esteemed historian Schlesinger evokes the past (his own as well as the country's) in this splendidly written first volume of his memoirs. He covers the years he was shaped and molded--important years in U.S. history, for he was born the year the U.S. entered World War I, and he ends this volume in the post-World War II cold-war era. Schlesinger's foreword is a beautiful little contemplation of age, memory, and a historian's "professional obligation to supplement and rectify memory by recourse to documents." He sprang from a liberal midwestern background. His father was a noted historian himself, and the tenor of his family life growing up and the settings in which his functional family operated are brought to life with supple prose and compelling observations of what was going on around him in the world. He devotes whole chapters to the books he enjoyed growing up, his schooling at Phillips Exeter Academy, his world travels as a teenager, and his experiences as a student at Harvard. Schlesinger began his career as a historian as the country slid into war; his bad eyesight kept him from being drafted, and he got involved in civilian government work in Washington. Marriage worked itself into his busy life as well, and at war's end, he returned to his historical research and writing, and the liberal politics of the cold-war era certainly drew his interest. A major book for readers of history and current events. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Steve E. Ellis on March 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950 is the first volume of the memoirs of the noted historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The book examines much of the nation's history in the first half of the twentieth century as well the author's anaylsis of public policy and his impressions of an extraordinary group of writers, politicians, intellectuals, and decision makers. Schlesinger is a name dropper extraordinaire in this volume and his vignettes on the people who crossed his path are interesting and inciteful and at times irreverent and caustic.
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Professor Schlesinger's memoir is truly splendid, a well-rounded account of intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century. The New York Review of Books compared it to The Education of Henry Adams, which may be going a little too far. But it is a delightful book recalling a time when public intellectuals had a great impact on national life. I am by no means an unqualified fan of Professor Schlesinger. I agree with Judge Posner's harsh assessment of Professor Schlesinger's defense of President Clinton in "An Affair of State." But I found this book delightful. As with all of Professor Schlesinger's work, the style is engaging, and it is fascinating to see the great debates of the 1940's from the viewpoint of someone who was so passionately involved.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Ellen Connally on July 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
For aging baby bombers like myself, Arthur M. Schiesinger's A LIFE IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is a trip down memory lane. When I got the recorded version out of the library and realized it was 20 tapes, I figured that I would never finish it, barring a drive across country. However, the melodious voice of Nelson Runger, with whom I have traveled many miles with other recorded books, makes Schiesinger's story not only interesting but memorable.

The book relates much of Schiesinger's life and the hundreds of people that he had close contact with. Many of the people that he mentions are familiar. His war time experiences brought back memories of stories from my parents. There are hundreds of bits of Americana along with Scheisinger's insights into many famous incidents of the 20th century.

There are early glimpses of people who went on to be major figures in American politics and history.

I certainly don't know that I could have read all 680 plus pages of this work, but the 20 tapes passed very quickly and I really enjoyed it.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian Cronin on February 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I first came across Schlesinger when, as a boy, I read with fascination his story of the Kennedy White House, "A Thousand Days". Even then however, I felt that his style was long winded and somewhat self serving. I do not mean to carp, but to judge from what is only the first installment of his memoirs, it looks as if things haven`t changed much since.
That is not to say that this isn`t a useful memoir, merely that it could have been a lot shorter. He has some great anecdotes to tell, particularly from a trip aroung the world he took with his parents when he was fifteen or sixteen. However, even at this early stage one gets the impression of a precocious pain in the backside. One wonders if a great deal of change occurred in the intervening period. In fairness to him, he does acknowledge this side of his personality when he tells us that he once told his mother(!) that she had no right to her opinion as she didn`t know what she was talking about.
Aside from a few well told anecdotes, the best and most rewarding sections of this memoir are those dealing with the writing of "The Age of Jackson" and the struggle in the post war years for control of the moderate American left. Even here, unfortunately, the detail becomes wearying. He winds up with a passionate re-enunciation of the priciples of his book "The Vital Center". This is interesting stuff and could have used a bit more elaboration at the expense of some of the earlier sections of the book.
In the end it is probaly these early sections that are in need of most pruning. One wonders, for example, why he thought it necessary to tell the reader in great deatail about his childhood reading or the movies he watched as a teenager.
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