The Imperial Historian

Richard Aldous (Author, Bard College)


The first major biography of preeminent historian and intellectual Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a defining figure in Kennedy’s White House.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917–2007), known today as the architect of John F. Kennedy’s presidential legacy, blazed an extraordinary path from Harvard University to wartime London to the West Wing. The son of a pioneering historian—and a two-time Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner in his own right—Schlesinger redefined the art of presidential biography. A Thousand Days, his best-selling and immensely influential record of the Kennedy administration, cemented Schlesinger’s place as one of the nation’s greatest political image makers and a key figure of the American intellectual elite—a peer and contemporary of Reinhold Niebuhr, Isaiah Berlin, and Adlai Stevenson.

The first major biography of this defining figure in Kennedy’s Camelot, Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian presents a dramatic life and career set against the backdrop of the American Century. Biographer Richard Aldous draws on oral history, rarely seen archival documents, and the official Schlesinger papers to craft a portrait of the incandescently brilliant and controversial historian who framed America’s ascent to global empire.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • October 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24470-0
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 496 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“[Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.] has found in Aldous an agreeably judicious biographer. … Aldous gracefully balances an appreciation for his subject’s talents as a writer of narratives and speeches with an acknowledgment of his shortcomings as a political analyst and aide.” — The New York Times Book Review

“[A] very readable distillation of a long and fruitful life.” — The Atlantic

“As a biographer, Mr. Aldous’s prose is cool and even-handed. ... [Schlesinger] is especially good on the inner conflicts of presidential politics.” — The Wall Street Journal

“[A] convincing portrait, rendered with skill and sensitivity, sympathetic toward its subject while capturing the quirks that made him, in the words of one contemporary, ‘so Arthurish.’” — The Washington Post

“Aldous’s absorbing biography will surely be the definitive account of the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.. Schlesinger was often accused of writing hagiography, but Aldous deftly avoids a similar charge. While clearly admiring of his subject, Aldous is thoughtful and insightful, and at times critical.” — Andrew Preston, Times Literary Supplement

“[A] compellingly narrated and well-researched biography.” — The Nation

“Aldous writes with a verve and clarity that matches Schlesinger’s ... his book is likely to long endure as the standard work on its gifted title character.” — James M. Banner, Jr., The Weekly Standard

“The triumph of Richard Aldous’s new book is that it separates the myth from the reality, explaining both the seemingly inexorable rise of Schlesinger and how he contributed so much to the subsequent mythologising of the Kennedy era.” — The Irish Times

“Richard Aldous’s Schlesinger is a deeply researched and skillfully written biography of a brilliant, scheming, perceptive and highly-partisan figure who believed in writing “useful history” to promote liberal causes and hoped to affect history by his own participation in American politics.” — Curtis Wilkie, author of The Fall of the House of Zeus

“In this elegant biography, Richard Aldous reveals the fascinating story of the ‘knee-pants genius’ who won his first Pulitzer Prize at the age of twenty-eight and went on to become the Kennedys’ court historian. Aldous presents an intimate portrait of a man of thought and a man of action living at the ‘vital center’ of Cold War America.”” — David Reynolds, author of The Long Shadow

“In his marvelous, moving, and unsparing Schlesinger, Aldous brings us the brilliant, ambitious, colorful, sometimes maddening Schlesinger in full flower—with all of his stunning professional triumphs and glaring personal failures. A noteworthy achievement.” — Lawrence J. Haas, author of Harry and Arthur

“A provocative and definitive account of a man of great achievement and charm who looms over nearly a century of the history that he himself so meticulously recorded. A great read—and an absorbing, essential book.” — Mark Danner, author of Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War

“[A] judicious, balanced account that focuses on the high points of Schlesinger’s career.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“Aldous effectively captures the optimistic spirit of post-World War II America as viewed through Schlesinger’s experiences…Entertaining and exhilarating, this book will appeal mostly to historians but also be enjoyed by popular history readers.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“Aldous provides a well-researched and balanced examination of Schlesinger and his academic and political achievements.” — Booklist

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