Dynastic Nostalgia

The Last Brahmin: Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and the Making of the Cold War
by Luke A. Nichter
Yale University Press
544 pp., $37.50

Even before the Kennedys took center stage in American mythology, Americans have had their share of legendary families, the decline and fall of which have been staples of both history and fiction.

Despite having been brought up to worship the self-made, Americans have nonetheless long indulged in the worship of these great families. A signal example is Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons, which inspired Orson Welles’ 1942 cinematic semi-masterpiece. Both generate nostalgia by simultaneously celebrating the rise of the self-made entrepreneur and glorying in the comeuppance of the arrogant and oblivious dynastic whelp.

As for history, two of America’s most prominent legendary families are the Cabots and Lodges—they of the famous ditty where one speaks only to the other and the other speaks only to God. Wealthy and powerful Boston families of long-standing influence, they had merged by the 20th century into a single political dynasty, which sent two members to the U.S. Senate. These were Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., a proud advocate of American imperialism who became Woodrow Wilson’s nemesis in the fight against the Treaty of...

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