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Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop - Guardians of the American Century Paperback – February 21, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1467901849
  • ISBN-13: 978-1467901840
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,306,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Through journals like "The Saturday Evening Post," "The New York Herald Tribune," and "Newsweek," journalists Joseph (1910-1989) and Stewart (1914-1974) Alsop espoused militant anticommunism and a robust vision of America as the world's legitimate leader. They enjoyed greater influence than most journalists, having unequaled access to presidents from Truman to Carter, and especially Kennedy, whom they advised on sweeping matters of state. Together, this journalistic tag team redefined the role of the media in American politics. Those who complain that the so-called liberal news media enjoy too much power today ought to take note that the way was paved by these archconservatives. This is a fine and highly readable addition to recent American history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Educated at Groton, Harvard and Yale, the Connecticut-Yankee Alsops formed a postwar journalistic partnership with a New York Herald Tribune column read by millions. "At every crisis and critical juncture," writes Merry, "they were there to give expression to the principles and impulses that guided the nation's foreign-policy leaders and shaped its role in the world." Their illuminating commentary on the great issues of the day, from the end of WWII to the fall of Saigon in 1975, was a chronicle of the old order's disintegration as well, according to Merry. McCarthyism was seen as an assault on the WASP elite; the 1956 Suez crisis, principally a humiliation for the British, as a weakening of the authority of establishment Anglo-Saxons; while the war in Vietnam completed the process. In this richly detailed double bio, Merry brings the brothers themselves into three-dimensional view?Stewart (1914-1974), the plainspoken, dispassionate realist; Joseph (1912-1989), the hyperbolic gadfly?and describes how they helped define the end of the American century. As much social and cultural history as biography, the book should have wide appeal. Merry is a former Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent. Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

I grew up in the little fishing town of Gig Harbor, Washington, but my passion for history emerged during my third grade year in Charlottesville, Virginia, where my father pursued a Ph.D. at Mr. Jefferson's University. There I encountered history in abundance, not least the university itself, so much of it designed by Jefferson. Also there was Jefferson's Monticello, nearby Civil War battlefields, numerous statues of famous Americans going back 200 years. I knew from that time that history would be an important part of my life.

My dad eventually became a newspaperman in Tacoma, Washington, and I followed him into that trade. I was editor of my junior high school newspaper, my high school paper, and the University of Washington Daily. Following a stint in the army, most of it as a counterespionage agent in West Germany, I got a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. But it was always my dream to cover big events of historical sweep. Thus, after two years at the Denver Post, I arrived in Washington, D.C., to become a national political correspondent for a Dow Jones weekly newspaper called The National Observer. It was a wonderful editorial product but a business failure, and in 1977 the parent company killed it off. I was pleased to be invited to join the Washington bureau of Dow Jones' other newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, where I spent nearly 10 years covering Congress, the White House, economic policy, and national political campaigns. It was a great experience.

But around 1987 I concluded I was finished with the political chase and wished to become a publishing executive. Thus I became managing editor at Congressional Quarterly Inc., the Washington-based publishing enterprise specializing in news and information on Congress, politics, and public policy. Later I became executive editor and then CEO, a position I held for a dozen years.

So I had two wonderful career segments -- covering Washington for one of the country's leading newspapers; and leading a fine news organization with the hallowed mission of lubricating the wheels of American democracy with ongoing flows of highly valuable civic information.

Along the way I produced three books. First came TAKING ON THE WORLD (Viking, 1996), a biography of prominent postwar columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop. I sought to use these two journalistic giants -- blood relatives of the Roosevelts; close friends of the Kennedys -- as a kind of window on 40 years of American political, diplomatic, and social history. Next came SANDS OF EMPIRE (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a polemical work that explored the philsophical underpinnings of the ideas driving American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era -- and driving policy, as I believed, in the wrong direction.

And now comes A COUNTRY OF VAST DESIGNS, a biography of President James K. Polk and an exploration of the powerful wave of expansionist sentiment that washed over America in the 1840s. In just four years America expanded its territory by a third and accumulated the vast expanse of Texas (annexed at the risk of war with Mexico), the American Southwest (acquired as a result of that war with Mexico), and the Pacific Northwest (brought into the union after a harrowing round of negotiations that almost caused a war with Great Britain). I portray James Polk, the mastermind and driving force behind this expansionist wave, as a smaller-than-life figure with larger-than-life ambitions. He achieved all his goals, but the efforts of this relentless politician sapped his strength and health, and within four months of his leaving office he died in his sleep at age 53.

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Rask on January 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Those who remember being rankled or reassured by the political columns of the Alsop brothers during the 1950's will appreciate this thorough study of two of the most prominent journalists of their time, Joseph and Stewart Alsop.
This well written, well researched book is more than just a dual biography. It is a fascinating walk-though of the times which the Alsops reported with intelligent insights drawn from their unparalleled contacts.
Sons of a privileged Northeastern WASP family, the Alsops had the best of everything: education at Groton and then at Harvard; they had money; their cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, reigned supreme in the White House; their a great-uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, had become an historical monument. With these resources behind them, they applied their great talents as writers and their high intellects to make the most of it.
As partners in the syndicated newspaper columns, their contacts and influences put what they reported at the top of the list of "must reads". When they separated to go their separate ways, the flamboyant Joe remained a highly influential daily columnist while the more reflective Stewart won even greater praise for his Saturday Evening Post features in the days when the Post was the preeminent weekly family magazine.
The lives of the Alsop brothers paralleled the history of the United States during the mid-part of the 20th Century -- from the Depression to Reagan's election and finally the fall of the Soviet Union. It was because they participated in and reported history in the making that their biographies resonate with so much interest. We see Stewart parachuting behind enemy lines during World War II while Joe -- with General Chenault -- was chased by enemy troops over the rough terrain of China.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Val Holley on January 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
Robert Merry's grand theme is the Decline and Fall of America's WASP Aristocracy, from the Depression through Vietnam, as seen through the eyes of ultra-hawkish journalists and siblings Joseph and Stewart Alsop. In recreating the clubbish atmospheres of high Washington society (especially its zenith in the Kennedy White House) and mid-twentieth-century Washington bureaucracy, Merry is superb. I found myself envying and mourning Joe Alsop's lavish, liveried dinner parties, notwithstanding his being alcoholic, repellent, and insufferable.

Yet on another level, this book is a failure. The gaping and largely unaddressed question is, how did Joe Alsop navigate the world as a gay man, especially during the malevolently homophobic years of McCarthyism? Merry seems to think that quoting a couple of letters from Gore Vidal closes the matter. We learn that Joe contracted syphilis in China and we're reminded of his famous KGB entrapment during a tryst in a Moscow hotel; otherwise we're told nothing of how he managed his sexual desires. In truth, the tacit mandate to "pass" with bosses, customers, social equals, loved ones, and top U.S. military men and bureaucrats - no minor feat considering Joe's times - had to inform every waking moment of his life. Was his solution to have sex only on foreign shores? When younger brother Stewart starts a family, the firstborn is christened Joseph Wright Alsop VI. Stewart had to understand that Joseph Wright Alsop V was relinquishing his lineal right to beget the bearer of that name, but Merry ignores this.

When a historian ignores a gay subject's daily burden of making his way in a straight world, it is neither respect nor history; it is homophobia. It offensively implies that the subject achieved greatness in spite, not because, of being gay. This was done by Meryle Secrest to Stephen Sondheim and by Penelope Niven to Thornton Wilder, and it was done here. Let us hope some future biographer of Joe Alsop rectifies this.
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