In This Review

A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950
A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950
By Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 684 pp

This is the first volume of the memoirs of a renowned historian and influential kibitzer on government. Although his historical work is given its due, this is above all the story of a young New Dealer caught up in and pushed about by the ripples of World War II. Schlesinger's America seems rather small, consisting of a few hundred interesting people that seem destined for later fame. Schlesinger comes across as a brilliant and bumptious youth in this insular and attractive set, populated largely by other men and women of letters. Even the politicians read. The battles he witnesses, especially against isolationists and communists, are struggles of ideas. These memories are also a tonic. Attributing the term to Ambassador Charles Bohlen, Schlesinger warns about the danger of "hindmyopia" -- the "refusal to see the specific circumstances, the particular pressures, the full context, that shaped decisions." Above all, Schlesinger's book provides an excellent antidote for just such "hindmyopia" about the travails of the generation shaped by World War II.