The Banality of Banal

I first thought I would title this review "Memoirs of the Imperial Jester." The jester being one who, though of no importance himself, is always present at the imperial court, I thought I discerned certain parallels between him and the author of A Life in the Twentieth Century. After looking into its pages, however, I saw that I was wrong. A jester should occasionally be amusing, show some shrewd insight, and exercise his special license for candor.

Inevitably, Schlesinger's memoirs get the big publisher and the big hype. Mr. Schlesinger is "the finest historian of our age," according to such dust-jacket celebrities as the erudite Mr. Tom Brokaw and the judicious Mr. Norman Mailer. (How would they know?) The same authorities tell us that this fat book, which takes Arthur Junior up to age 53, is "an eloquent and insightful history of the 20th century" and also "a fabulous journey through the first half of the 20th century." The fact is, Schlesinger is not and never has been an historian but merely a writer of clever political tracts, a press agent for the left wing of the Democratic party (now the only wing). In The Age of Jackson (his Harvard M.A. thesis), with no fear despite insufficient research, he gave us a supposedly definitive interpretation of the most complicated period of U.S. history. In contrast to all previous (and subsequent) understandings of serious...

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