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A Life with History

John Morton Blum

September 2004
304 pages, 20 photographs, 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1338-0, $35.00

book cover imageThe author of such classic works as The Republican Roosevelt, V Was for Victory, and Years of Discord, John Morton Blum is one of a small group of intellectuals who for more than a quarter of a century dominated the writing of American political history. Writing now of his own career, Blum provides a behind-the-scenes look at Ivy League education and political power from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Blum insightfully recounts a long and distinguished journey that began at Phillips Academy, where he first realized he could make a career of teaching and writing history. He tells how young men were socialized to the values of the Northeastern establishment in those years before World War II, and how as a non-practicing Jew he learned to over-come bigotry both at Andover and at Harvard, which then had no Jewish professors.

In 1957 Blum joined the faculty of Yale University’s history department, widely regarded as the nation’s best, where he became both influential and popular and where his students included one future U.S. president as well as others who aspired to the office. He reveals much about the inner workings of Ivy League education and tells of controversies over the Vietnam War and the Black Panthers, his role in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign, and how he searched for common ground between reactionary faculty and radical students.

More than a recounting of a singular life, Blum’s story explains how political history was researched and written during the second half of the twentieth century, describing how the discipline evolved, gained ascendancy, and was challenged as historical fashions changed. It also offers revealing glimpses of such prominent academics as Kingman Brewster, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., C. Vann Woodward, and William Sloan Coffin.

Over a distinguished career, Blum witnessed considerable change in elite educational institutions, where minorities and women were grossly underrepresented when he first entered academia. In a memoir brimming with insight and laced with humor, he looks back at the academy—“not a refuge from reality but an alternative reality”—as he reflects upon his intellectual journey and his contributions to the study and writing of twentieth-century American history.

“An engrossing story of the life and times of a great historian. Blum’s world mirrors the American Century and illuminates the vitality and importance of history and scholarship in making our lives both rich and meaningful.”--James Chace, author of Acheson

“What makes the book so outstanding is the precise and perceptive way in which Blum describes the world of Ivy League education and political power. There is no more compelling account of how Yale worked from the inside.”--Lewis Gould, author of The Modern American Presidency

“A splendid memoir by one of America’s most distinguished historians—judicious, perceptive, and beautifully written.”--James Patterson, author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974

JOHN MORTON BLUM’s most recent book is Liberty, Justice, Order. He retired from Yale in 1991 and lives in New Haven.

 

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