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The Gentleman From New York : Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography Hardcover – August 16, 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

History will probably remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, as one of the great American senators and rank his name alongside Stephen Douglas and Daniel Webster. He isn't known as a topnotch legislator--his name is attached to no ground-shaking bill--but he is respected by colleagues in both parties and by the media as one of the brightest men to work in Washington in recent years. He's also had a fascinating political journey, which took him from liberalism in the 1950s to flirtations with neoconservatism in the '60s and '70s to old-style Democratic loyalties in the '80s and '90s. "In contact with both liberalism and conservatism, he belongs to neither," writes Moynihan biographer Godfrey Hodgson, an English journalist who previously penned a history of American conservatism, The World Turned Right Side Up. "Supported by both, he seems to link them, and to transcend them."

Hodgson covers Moynihan's whole life--from growing up (it wasn't in Hell's Kitchen, by the way) to his time in the navy, his controversial role in the Johnson administration (where he wrote the so-called Moynihan Report on the black family), his Nixon-Ford days as ambassador to India and the United Nations, and finally his career as an elected pol. He moved about constantly, writes Hodgson: "It is a record that suggests impatience, dissatisfaction, persistent difficulty in getting on with superiors, and the troubled emotions that afflict a man of immense ability and energy who cannot quite find the right task and is afraid that his time will run out before he does." Following four full terms in the Senate, he has finally found "increasing serenity." (Moynihan announced he would not seek reelection in 2000, which opened the door for Hillary Clinton's candidacy.) Hodgson himself has known Moynihan for several decades; the senator even attended the author's wedding in 1970. This relationship allows the biographer to include firsthand reflections at appropriate moments ("When Pat announced that he was going to work for Nixon in the White House, I almost fell off my chair").

An interesting, favorable, and admiring book, The Gentleman from New York serves as a fitting tribute to the man. Of Moynihan's legacy, Hodgson writes: "After the dazzling speeches and elegant essays, the wit and the prophetic utterances are largely forgotten, he will be remembered as the man who ... had the lucidity and courage to restate the enduring propositions of the American political creed ... [and] above all a faith in the redemptive power of republican government." --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Though it may not rank as the definitive Moynihan biography, this informative study brings clarity to the Democratic senator's 24-year career as a legislator and his even longer career as a political thinker. Moynihan has called his career a series of "chance encounters, random walks"; Hodgson (The World Turned Right Side Up), an Oxford-based historian and a friend of Moynihan's since 1962, manages to lend that random walk a narrative coherence. Giving a colorful if not always balanced account of the senator's extraordinary journey from the sidewalks of New York to the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Hodgson, who had access to the senator's political papers and personal letters, peppers his account liberally with charming anecdotes and vivid biographical details. He portrays, for example, a young Pat, back in New York City after three formative years at the London School of Economics, devouring cheese and onion sandwiches between beers at McSorley's Ale House. He also gives a nicely detailed account of Moynihan's momentous 1975 speech as delegate to the U.N., where he denounced anti-Semitism amid a furious debate over a resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism. And he follows the legislator as he went on to become, in the words of the New York Times, an "aggressive debater, outrageous flatterer, shrewd adviserAindeed manipulatorAof Presidents, accomplished diplomat and heartfelt friend of the poor." Hodgson's summary of the senator's legislative record is uncritical, and his prose gets cumbersome in places. But as an eyewitness account of Moynihan's colorful career, this biography is a welcome achievement. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (August 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395860423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395860427
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eric V. Moye on April 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a fascinating biography, which a good author can accomplish regardless of what one thinks about the subject.
Unlike another reviewer, I do not think that History will remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the same thoughts as the great American senators, alongside L.B.J. or Daniel Webster. As noted, Moynihan is not known as one of the Senate's great legislators. Critics regularly pointed to the fact that he was never (at least, in a leadership role) associated with any sweeping legislation, and his lofty presence made accommodation and the give and take of the Senate was difficult for him.
This is a wonderful biography, which (except for the occasional errors pointed out by other reviewers) remains well written and an engrossing story. Biographer Godfrey Hodgson is admittedly a long-observing and apparently close friend of his subject. Some assert that this the major strength and major of this work while others assert that this is the major weakness of the biography. However, I remain unconvinced that for such an intimate portrait, complete (or even relative) objectivity is impossible to attain. It is hard to imagine a subject letting someone get close enough to do a thorough job who is not a friend. And as we too often see, without the at least tacit blessing of the subject, many people who can offer good insights will not cooperate.
Moynihan was seldom predictable from an ideological perspective. Who else could work for both Kennedy and Nixon, and end up vilified by both liberals and conservatives? Yet, he was consistently respected by Senate colleagues in both parties. Few seriously question the fact that he had a massive intellect.
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Godfrey Hodgson, the author of this new biography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is admittedly a long-standing, close friend of his subject. This is at once the major strength and major weakness of this portrait of the senior Senator from New York. On the one hand, Hodgson has enjoyed unprecedented access to Moynihan in writing this book, which stops just short of being an official biography, making the book extremely revealing. Yet as an intimate of Moynihan's, the author cannot seem to achieve the distance and perspective which objectivity demands.
Nonetheless, anyone interested in American or New York politics--or contemporary American history--is bound to find this an absorbing volume. After all, Moynihan's friends and associates have ranged from Averell Harriman to Henry Kissinger, from Arthur Goldberg to Richard Nixon, from Lyndon Johnson to Irving Kristol. He has exercised power in locales as varied as Albany, the U.S. Labor Department, the Nixon White House, the United Nations, New Delhi, and the U.S. Senate. Perhaps more than most political biographies, this is not just the story of one man but a political and intellectual history of the period in which his career flourished.
Yet the author's biases are apparent. He strives mightily to reconcile and explain Moynihan's political inconsistencies, styling him at one point an "orthodox centrist liberal"--whatever that means. (It strikes me as an oxymoron.) He tries to find consistent strains in what seems to me to have been a political career characterized most of all by opportunism, if not outright caprice.
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Format: Hardcover
As a lifelong Republican, I have admired the Senator from New York for decades. Honesty and integrity is an apparent oxymoron when defining any politician - Senator Moynihan was a man of great intellect, integrity, and purpose.

The book was excellent. Well written and presenting the Senator in an honest and forthright posture. It left me with the question; "Where have all the good and honest men gone?"

Kudos to the author - A serious study of our times and a page turner to those seeking any political truth.
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Moynihan was such a fascinating man. Sadly, he was the last Senator of the "20th century public intellectual" mold, a man who had a very deep appreciation of erudition and knowledge. Hodgson's treatment sometimes feels a bit too adulatory, but that is not exactly a surprise to the reader; he was one of Moynihan's good friends.

A little slow at first, but stick with it. A good biography of a remarkable man.
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