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The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan : a Biography [Hardcover]

GODFREY HODGSON

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Synopsis

A study of the life and career of New York's Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan provides a portrait of a complex, brilliant politician known for charting his own course among the perils and pitfalls of American politics.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A biography worth reading 25 April 2001
By Eric V. Moye - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be a fascinating biography, which a good author can accomplish regardless of what one thinks about the subject.
Unlike another reviewer, I do not think that History will remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the same thoughts as the great American senators, alongside L.B.J. or Daniel Webster. As noted, Moynihan is not known as one of the Senate's great legislators. Critics regularly pointed to the fact that he was never (at least, in a leadership role) associated with any sweeping legislation, and his lofty presence made accommodation and the give and take of the Senate was difficult for him.
This is a wonderful biography, which (except for the occasional errors pointed out by other reviewers) remains well written and an engrossing story. Biographer Godfrey Hodgson is admittedly a long-observing and apparently close friend of his subject. Some assert that this the major strength and major of this work while others assert that this is the major weakness of the biography. However, I remain unconvinced that for such an intimate portrait, complete (or even relative) objectivity is impossible to attain. It is hard to imagine a subject letting someone get close enough to do a thorough job who is not a friend. And as we too often see, without the at least tacit blessing of the subject, many people who can offer good insights will not cooperate.
Moynihan was seldom predictable from an ideological perspective. Who else could work for both Kennedy and Nixon, and end up vilified by both liberals and conservatives? Yet, he was consistently respected by Senate colleagues in both parties. Few seriously question the fact that he had a massive intellect. This makes even more interesting the fact that Moynihan so assiduously sought verification and validation of positions which he had taken years before (evidenced by the satisfaction he took as seeing the NAACP - endorsed writings with regard to his decades-earlier call to alarm with regard to the state of the Black family). While many on the left decried some of his positions (the author seems to infer that the occasional, but continued reference to his comment re "benign neglect" was more painful that the stenosis which afflicted his spine), he remained a champion of those whom society left behind.
All of those who are interested in American or New York politics will enjoy this read. However, I do not find it to be (nor do I think it tries to be) as much an in-depth tome on contemporary American history as another reviewer has suggested. For anyone looking for a study (and an attempted explanation) of an incredibly complex figure in 20th century American history, this is a fine addition to the mosaic.
The book concludes with Moynihan's musings regarding what now means to be a liberal, and the role (and ability) of government vis a vis social problems. This is thought provoking and a challenge to many readers (including myself). What else can we expect from a biography?
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A revealing, if biased, political biography 11 Oct 2000
By Richard E. Hegner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Godfrey Hodgson, the author of this new biography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is admittedly a long-standing, close friend of his subject. This is at once the major strength and major weakness of this portrait of the senior Senator from New York. On the one hand, Hodgson has enjoyed unprecedented access to Moynihan in writing this book, which stops just short of being an official biography, making the book extremely revealing. Yet as an intimate of Moynihan's, the author cannot seem to achieve the distance and perspective which objectivity demands.
Nonetheless, anyone interested in American or New York politics--or contemporary American history--is bound to find this an absorbing volume. After all, Moynihan's friends and associates have ranged from Averell Harriman to Henry Kissinger, from Arthur Goldberg to Richard Nixon, from Lyndon Johnson to Irving Kristol. He has exercised power in locales as varied as Albany, the U.S. Labor Department, the Nixon White House, the United Nations, New Delhi, and the U.S. Senate. Perhaps more than most political biographies, this is not just the story of one man but a political and intellectual history of the period in which his career flourished.
Yet the author's biases are apparent. He strives mightily to reconcile and explain Moynihan's political inconsistencies, styling him at one point an "orthodox centrist liberal"--whatever that means. (It strikes me as an oxymoron.) He tries to find consistent strains in what seems to me to have been a political career characterized most of all by opportunism, if not outright caprice. He tries to explain away Moynihan's alcohol problem, while reporting that his staff employs the euphemism that the Senator is "with the Mexican ambassador" to explain that he is enjoying Tio Pepe, his favorite dry sherry. He justifies the Senator's long-standing feud with the liberal wing of his party in light of some early slights at the hands of liberal New Yorkers, referring at one point to "the authoritarian left," an interesting turn of phrase in the wake of Gingrich and Co.
There are a number of obvious errors in the book. The author notes that in 1953, the Democrats had been out of power in New York State for 20 years, ignoring the fact that Democrat Herbert Lehman served as Governor through 1943, following FDR and Al Smith. He refers to the Comptroller General of the U.S. as a "Treasury official," although the C.G. is in charge of the U.S. General Accounting Office, a Congressional agency, not part of the Treasury Department. He suggests that President Clinton pledged that he would "vote for" the welfare reform legislation he eventually signed, missing the fact that America is not a parliamentary democracy.
Despite the weaknesses, this is a beguiling biography, which is for the most part well written, and sure to captivate anyone with more than a passing interest in U.S. politics. I do not regret for a minute the time I spent reading it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moynihan - Where have all the Honest Politicians Gone? 24 Sep 2008
By Thomas A. Jennings - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a lifelong Republican, I have admired the Senator from New York for decades. Honesty and integrity is an apparent oxymoron when defining any politician - Senator Moynihan was a man of great intellect, integrity, and purpose.

The book was excellent. Well written and presenting the Senator in an honest and forthright posture. It left me with the question; "Where have all the good and honest men gone?"

Kudos to the author - A serious study of our times and a page turner to those seeking any political truth.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Gentleman 15 July 2009
By Mike Pawlows - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Moynihan was such a fascinating man. Sadly, he was the last Senator of the "20th century public intellectual" mold, a man who had a very deep appreciation of erudition and knowledge. Hodgson's treatment sometimes feels a bit too adulatory, but that is not exactly a surprise to the reader; he was one of Moynihan's good friends.

A little slow at first, but stick with it. A good biography of a remarkable man.
7 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A 4 BUT FOR ITS SUBJECT.... 25 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Godfrey Hodgson is a stand-out as a political historian of the second half of the twentieth century. If you read anything of his, read "World Turned Right Side Up" and "America In Our Time". Excellent, crisp writing accompanied by balanced judgment and comprehensive coverage are Hodgson's trademarks. This book was also well-put together.
It is obvious that Hodgson really likes his subject and strives mightily to shore him up, very often without success. An appropriate title for this book could very well have been "Forrest Gump Goes to the Senate." Moynihan turns up at every critical juncture in the history of American social policy....to what purpose, it is never clear. In fact, his entire career leaves one with the feeling, why was he here? This book does nothing to lay these questions to rest and does much to raise them over and over again. Since Jefferson, other men of thought have entered public life to build coalitions and accomplish great things. In this book, Moynihan's first impulse always seems to be to drape himself in a toga and write a monograph. Rather than building alliances with others, he builds moats around himself with gratuitously acerbic commentary.
By all means read the book. However, we can only hope that Hodgson will find a worthier subject for his next book.
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