Friday, December 11, 2015

Moynihan's Reading List for Nixon

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Anecdotal Evidence
"Early in his first term, [U.S. President Richard] Nixon named [future U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick] Moynihan – a liberal Harvard professor with close ties to the Kennedys – his urban affairs adviser. Hess calls them “the oddest...of all the odd couples in American political life.” 
In a chapter titled “Tutorial,” [author Stephen] Hess reports the president asked Moynihan for a list of his favorite political biographies, and quotes Nixon as writing in a memo to Moynihan: “As you know, I do quite a bit of evening reading, and I want to be sure that I’m reading the best!” One is touched by Nixon’s earnestness and eagerness to please his staff intellectual. Limiting himself to ten titles, Moynihan leaves out Erik Erikson on Gandhi, Arthur Link on Woodrow Wilson and Catherine Drinker Bowen on Oliver Wendell Holmes. Here is the list Moynihan gives Nixon: 
Autobiography, John Adams (1802)
Abraham Lincoln, Lord Charnwood (1917)
The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1918)
Talleyrand, Duff Cooper (1932)
Melbourne, David Cecil (1939)
Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock (1952)
The Republican Roosevelt, John Morton Blum (1961)
Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, Clinton Rossiter (1964)
Disraeli, Robert Blake (1966)
Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, John Womack Jr. (1969)" 
What my fellow blogger fails to mention is that Nixon shocked Moynihan not long afterwards by saying, "I've read them all, now let's discuss them." Moynihan himself had not read Disraeli, which is close to 900 pages.

I can't say that political biographies are really my thing. I didn't like Henry Adams, which apparently some people think is the greatest work of 20th century non-fiction in English. I have owned the Bowen, Bullock, Blum, and the Blake, but can't say I ever read them all the way through. I might take a look at Erikson on Gandhi. Duff Cooper's Tallyrand looks pretty fun. I feel a duty to read the Charnswood on Lincoln, which probably means I won't.

A chacun son gout.

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