A Life with History

John Morton Blum

The 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 overcome bigotry both at Andover and at Harvard, which then had no Jewish professors.

“This book is significant, not simply as a chronicle of an important career, but also as a case study in the social history of the mid-20th century intelligentsia.

—History News Network

“Blum delineates his academic training and professional ascent in detail. Dustups with colleagues and run-ins with the activist Left at Yale during the Vietnam era punctuate a compelling narrative. Woven throughout are revealing discussions of Blum’s scholarship, ranging from early studies of Teddy Roosevelt to his big book on politics and public policy in the 1960s. Blum’s prose is a pleasure read, ranking with recent memoirs by contemporaries Peter Gay, Charles Roland, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

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In 1957 Blum joined the faculty of Yale Universitys history department, widely regarded as the nations 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 McCarthys presidential campaign, and how he searched for common ground between reactionary faculty and radical students.

More than a recounting of a singular life, Blums 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.