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Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary Hardcover – Oct 12 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (Oct. 12 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488017
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #512,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 15 reviews
85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
This book BEGS to be Read - Understand the last 60 Years of American History!!!! Oct. 18 2010
By Richad of Connecticut - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with caution. It is a book of select letters written by the late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan who served 18 years in the Congress. The Senator also happened to be a Harvard professor, and Presidential adviser to JFK, LBJ, and Nixon before serving in the Congress. He is brilliant, literary, funny, prescient, and perhaps even clairvoyant.

This book will have a limited audience because of the subject matter, and although it will not be widely read, it will be read by those who are widely read. Moynihan was a gift to all of us, and our society will sorely miss his wisdom, and his advice. This will be true regardless of what side of the political fence you come from.

The book is composed of letters, some 700 of the 10,000 that were available to the editor, Steve Wiseman. It was left to the editor, in his selection process to give us a flavor for who the Senator was, a man who never wrote his own biography. He did however author 18 thought provoking books, and it seems that the core of those books is revealed through these letters.

Each letter has a brief sentence or two introduction setting the time and tone of when it was written. Remember, you are reading the exact words that Daniel Moynihan wrote. There's no editing, so he sometimes appears to be years ahead of his time because in fact he was. Some of the words in the letters are not politically correct. The word Negro was in common usage 50 years ago, and everybody including Martin Luther King was comfortable with it then, and not now.

The book is a living testament to the POWER OF IDEAS, because that is what Moynihan was all about. I have been told by his fellow Senators that he was the most gifted intellect in the Senate in 50 years. There was no typical political phoniness in this man. You knew where you stood. He was opinionated, firm, and subject to change if you could show him that he was wrong.

The Senator demonstrated on page 499 that he was a class act. He and Senator Barry Goldwater were about as far apart politically, as you could be. At a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when Goldwater was absent, the CIA tried to blame Goldwater, and stated that the Committee had been fully informed through Goldwater. Senator Moynihan knew this was not true. He told the CIA in no uncertain terms, "If you are going to brand Barry Goldwater a liar, you're going to have to get yourself another Vice Chairman (meaning he Moynihan would resign). CIA Director Casey apologized. It's all on page 499.

Here are just a few of the provoking thoughts you will find in this collection:

1) The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society.

2) You might recall that back in 1990, when the Soviet Union was falling, no one in the CIA predicted it. They were all either asleep at the switch, or in denial. Senator Moynihan had predicted it very clearly in 1979, eleven years before. It's in the unedited letters, it couldn't be clearer, and everybody wants to know why he thought the CIA should be dissolved?

3) We all believe that Ralph Nader was the man who orchestrated the whole automobile safety movement in this country. It's not so. It's in the letters, Moynihan was there first. At that point Professor Mohnihan was instrumental in bringing Nader to Washington DC, and pushed for safety legislation before Nader got there.

4) He coined the term "iron law of emulation", which means he felt that bureaucracies or groups in conflict tend to become more and more like each other over time. He thought the Soviet and American policies on nuclear war were an example of this.

5) A month before JFK's death he wrote an amazing letter on October 22, 1963 on organized crime to the President. It is clear to me that he understood the threat of the underworld on our society like nobody else in government except for Robert Kennedy. This was a time when the FBI and Hoover denied that organized crime existed. This letter shocked me, look at page 63.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was an intellectual, diplomat, professor, politician, and statesman. We are all better off for the life he lived, and we are very much enlightened by the energy and time it took Mr. Wiseman to put this collection together. He has done an admirable job. By the end of this book, one develops an extraordinary and in-depth feel for this most remarkable public man. Born dirt poor, shining shoes, the Senator left the planet a high brow intellectual with a deep love for his country. Read it at your leisure by your bedside, and be prepared to be enlightened. Thank you for reading this review.

Richard C. Stoyeck
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A patriotic liberal Jan. 7 2011
By Michael Altenburg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In March 2003, the month when he died at age 76, Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a memorandum summed up his credo about society and culture: The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. Thanks to this interaction, we're a better society in nearly all respects than we were."

This last piece in Steven R. Weisman's exquisite selection of Moynihan's letters, memoranda, diary entries, etc. says a lot about the man who was obsessed with both politics and ways to change them for the better. His daughter Maura, indeed, saw her father more as a writer than a politician. But he also served four presidents - John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford - as member of their cabinets or sub-cabinets, as ambassador in India and envoy to the United Nations. In addition, he represented New York for 24 years in the United States Senate. But the interaction between culture and politics would not have taken place without him having been a great writer and scholar at the same time.

Moynihan, an Irish Roman-Catholic, grew up poor in a single-parent family in New York, collecting cents on coke bottles, shining shoes on Times Square, later working on the piers of the East side as a longshoreman. Bright and ambitious, he attended City College of New York, joined the Navy in 1943, graduated from Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, studied at the London School of Economics as a Fulbright scholar and later became a professor at Syracuse University, MIT and Harvard. He published 19 books, most of them written in the old abandoned single-room school house next to the small farm he had bought for his family in the Susquehanna Valley in upstate New York following the assassination of JFK.

The subjects that fascinated him had much to do with where he came from: poverty, broken families, ghetto violence and organized crime. He was a natural member of the Democratic Party, but remained always deeply obliged and attached to a society which had helped him to overcome the shortcomings of his humble background and enabled him to rise from its bottom to the very top. For the same reason he was an enemy of the radical left which often enough came from privileged and wealthy families.

Marxism, so fashionable in New York in the 1930s and 40s, was not for him. From his young days in the New York ghettos he knew first hand that crime and violence often have less to do with class than with ethnicity. In 1963, together with Nathan Glazer, he published the eye opening best-seller "Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians and Irish of New York City".

As an ambassador to India in the mid 1970s he realized that the intricacies of ethnicity also rule international relations and the domestic tensions of many a nation. As US envoy to the United Nations he most violently, but in vain, fought the adoption of the "Zionism is Racism" resolution in 1975, but, at the same time, was more than critical of what he called the messianic radicalism of the Jews. Still, in 1991, "Zionism is Racism" was repealed at the UN - after Moynihan's prompting of President George H.W. Bush senior.

As early as 1979 he publicly predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union from internal stresses and had only contempt for the C.I.A which did not get it until much after it already had happened.

Strongly believing in the checks and balances of the American Constitution he urged to rein back in the powers of the executive branch after the end of the Cold War and fought for greater transparency and less secrecy.

The architectural renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington which JFK had initiated was completed under his auspices more than 25 years later and his efforts to convert the old Post Office building in New York into a new Pennsylvania Station after the previous one, also built by the architects McKim, Mead & White, had been torn down in the mid 60s, is scheduled to be completed in 2016 and to be renamed Moynihan Station.

So this extraordinary man of much courage, integrity, judgment, energy and taste will not be forgotten. There remains a lot to be learned from him, both from his books and from his life. An authentic, inspiring glimpse at both offers Stephen Weisman's "Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary".

Moynihan, in his time, resented few things worse than to be labeled a "neo-conservative". He saw himself as a liberal and wrote to the Vatican that the Pope had it wrong in denouncing "liberalism" in Centesimus Annus. In a European context, where this review comes from, much confusion remains about liberalism. Ralph Dahrendorf, the eminent German scholar/politician who later became a peer for life and member of the British House of Lords, was in age, stature and thinking somewhat comparable to Moyhnihan. In one of his last publications Dahrendorf suggested an imaginary Societas Erasmiana of great liberals for the cohort 1900 - 1910, including Hannah Arendt, George Kennan, John Kenneth Galbraith and others also close to Moynihan. Had Dahrendorf thought about extending a Societas Erasmiana of great liberals to his own age cohort, he no doubt would have included Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Splendid Reading April 15 2011
By J. Farrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More than ever, we need this man. But at least we have this sumptuous book that reflects his best efforts to think and act in a political zone free of liberal cant and conservative balderdash.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Mesmerizing Dec 29 2010
By Luis M. Torres - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'd have to say that this is like curling up with chocolate on a winter day..... A treat! Fabulous observations and fantastic writing... Coupled with the wit and candor of a legend...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A great collection May 25 2011
By kkav - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Portrait in Letters is a diamond in the rough. In these pages you will find a man who was insightful and well respected on both sides of the aisle. Forget reading books strictly from the left or the right. All you're going to hear is what you already believe. Daniel Patrick Moynihan worked for both LBJ and Richard Nixon. His report on race relations in 1960s America was groundbreaking and his views on the welfare state were quite sobering. Moynihan was the eyes and ears of Washington and offered his insight, sometimes helpful, sometimes not, on a range of subjects. Presidents found his insight helpful and he was never at a loss for words.

For example, in an early letter to Richard Nixon, Moynihan explained the difference between liberty and equality in America. He said that we give liberty willingly, as evidenced by the Emancipation Proclomation. But equality is a different story. We don't always grant equality. This was the paradox Martin Luther King, Jr. explored. We are free but are we equal? Two simple concepts with decades of strife behind them.

This book contains Moynihan's private letters ranging from the very personal, such as his letters to Jackie Kennedy after JFK's death, to the most public such as Moynihan's desire for safety advocate Ralph Nader to come to Washington. In between are a treasure trove of great reading. I read a few of the letters each night and have trouble putting the book down. The book is so good because it doesn't try to be anything. It isn't Al Gore or Glenn Beck. It's just the ideas of a man who mattered. And unlike a lot of the political junk being pedaled today, this book will make you think. I like that.


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