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Fellows historians remember Schlesinger

Published March 2, 2007


NEW YORK - One week before he died, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. attended a forum at the New-York Historical Society, seated in the front row of a small, crowded room as three biographers he had edited discussed the presidencies of Andrew Jackson, James Garfield and Calvin Coolidge.

Walking with a cane, too frail to participate, the 89-year-old Mr. Schlesinger was the giant in the room, a giant in a bow tie who listened with obvious delight to such fine points as Garfield's medical treatment and Coolidge's impact on contemporary politics.

The applause was warm for all three speakers - Sean Wilentz, David Greenberg and Ira Rutkow - but it was Mr. Schlesinger they inevitably looked to.

Mr. Schlesinger, who died Wednesday night (Feb. 28, 2007) after suffering a heart attack, lived well beyond his scattered study on Manhattan's East Side. He was the rare scholar you could dare call glamorous, a Kennedy insider who socialized with the elite and wasn't above meeting movie stars.

Mr. Schlesinger was deeply influential among his peers, widely read by general readers and engaged in politics. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, served as "court philosopher" for the Kennedy administration and helped define modern liberalism.

Wilentz began his remarks last week by noting that he had written a book on Jackson for the man whose The Age of Jackson still stands as an essential, Pulitzer Prize-winning text. The assignment of such a book, Wilentz confided to the audience, was like being asked by Babe Ruth to write a biography of the Yankees.

Mr. Schlesinger was active right up to the end. He served as general editor for the Times Books presidential series, for which the Jackson, Garfield and Coolidge biographies were written.

His journals, containing entries from the 1950s to the 1990s, will be published this fall by Penguin Press.

[Last modified March 2, 2007, 00:54:25]

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