This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
Rachel Donadio, in the NY Observer (March 17, 2004):
"Im very moderate by nature," Sam Tanenhaus said by telephone from his home in Westchester, two days after The New York Times announced that he would be the next editor of its Book Review. "People with extreme views interest me, dramatically and narratively."
The author of a very well-received 1997 biography of the journalist and eventual anti-communist Whittaker Chambers, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mr. Tanenhaus has spent the past five years as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, largely chronicling conservatives and neoconservatives in the orbit of the Bush administration. And so liberals seem to thinkor, perhaps, to fearthat the man taking over one of the countrys premier literary institutions is a conservative, while conservatives find him, as he said, more middle-of-the-road.
Affable, energetic but easygoing, well-respected by a broad swath of the intellectual community, possessing a healthy understanding of the ideological debates of the day but with no apparent dog in the race, Mr. Tanenhaus appears to fit The Times bill perfectly as a successor to Charles (Chip) McGrath, who has been itching to return to writing after nearly a decade in one of New Yorks most prestigiousand thanklessjobs. Mr. Tanenhaus also happens to come equipped with an M.A. in English literature from Yale and a background in book publishing.
Still, for all Mr. Tanenhaus well-roundedness, some see his appointment as another sign that The Times is devoting more attention to conservative developments. The paper recently assigned David Kirkpatrick to cover conservatives as a beat, and hired David Brooks as an Op-Ed columnist. Indeed, Mr. Tanenhaus himself said that The Times under executive editor Bill Keller had "remarkably and boldly" addressed "the conservative ascendancy" in America, and that he wanted his Book Review to address such developments as well. "It doesnt mean theyre going to win all the time and are right, but if you look into the last half century of politics, the conservative presence was always stronger than intellectuals knew," Mr. Tanenhaus said.
For his part, Mr. Keller said, "Sams politics, if he has any, had nothing to do with his selection. We hired him for his intelligence, his voracious curiosity, his passion for good books, his creative energy."
Privately, some conservatives said they were taken aback when Mr. Tanenhaus went to work as an editor at The Times generally liberal Op-Ed page in 1997, after spending much of the early 90s publishing Chambers-related work in conservative cultural journals, including The New Criterion, Commentary and National Review, as well as in non-conservative publications.
But Mr. Tanenhaus said that he never intended to align himself with the conservative cause. "Many [conservatives] were surprised that I didnt plan to reside permanently in that world," he said. Rather, he described his role as "an outsider whos invited to participate or to observe." Instead of a member of the family, Mr. Tanenhaus turned out to be a very skillful journalist. "Im a political skeptic," he said. "The people Ive written about tend to be not political figures, but politically engaged intellectualspeople who live the life of ideas and also become political actors of a kind."
Invisible Adjunct, on his blog (March 23, 2004):
A few months ago, I made a vow to myself that this would be my last semester as an invisible adjunct. Since I've failed to secure a full-time position in my final attempt at the academic job market, what this means, of course, is that I made a vow to leave the academy. Six more weeks of teaching, and I head for the nearest exit.
Though I must inevitably feel a sense of loss and sadness, it's thanks to this blog and its readers that I don't feel the kind of life-twisting bitterness that I might otherwise have experienced. I'll take with me, among other things, a knowledge of XHTML (which I never thought I could learn!), an undiminished passion for the Scottish Enlightenment, and a heightened sense of life's possibilities.
In the meantime, I've decided to give up the blog.
I do so with both a good deal of reluctance and a certain sense of relief. Writing blog entries and reading and responding to comments has become such an integral part of my regular routine that it's very difficult to walk away. For the next few weeks, at least, I'm sure I won't know what to do with myself (novel-reading? I just finished rereading all six of them). But this weblog has always been a labour of love, and lately I find that my heart is no longer in it. I think the time has come to focus my energies elsewhere. Anyway, I guess I've pretty much said most of things that I wanted to say, and then some.
I've also received more support than I ever could have imagined or expected. Indeed, the response to the blog has been, quite simply, overwhelming. Since I can't even begin to express what this has meant to me as I've struggled over the past year or so to make sense of my experience in the academy, I won't even try. Instead, I'll just take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who participated in the transformation of what began as “yet another me-zine” into something like an online community. To everyone who has read, linked, commented, and emailed: I thank you.
Benny Morris, in the course of an interview with Elizabeth Wasserman in the Atlantic (March 25, 2004):
You have said that as a historian and as a realist, you don't concern yourself with the moral implications of the facts that you reveal. But as an Israeli citizen, can you separate those two things? Have you ever felt concerned about the effects that your revelations would have on the morale of your people or on the public perception of Israel?
Morale is something different from morality, but my attitude in the 1980s, when I was looking at the subject and eventually when I published the book, was that what I was discovering wasn't all that terrible and that Israeli society was old enough and strong enough and mature enough to handle it. So the story of '48 which they'd been fed wasn't the complete story; it had a darker side as well. But nations should know their pasts accurately. And in any case, Israel's past wasn't so atrocious that it would suddenly undermine the staying power of society or the belief in its own justness. So on balance, I thought it was then the right thing to do.
I may have been mistaken in one small thingwhich may not be that smalland that is the very question of Israel's existence. I assumed in the 1980s that the struggle for Israel's existence had been settled, in the sense that Israel was not going to be destroyed, and that the propaganda aspect of its battle for existence would remain marginal. But in the last few years it seems that this propaganda aspect is more important than I had anticipated. And clearly, what I revealed in the 1980s could be used by enemies of Israel. I didn't anticipate this wave of anti-Israeli feeling, not only in the Arab world but in the rest of the world, too.
Do you think it would have inhibited your work in any way had you anticipated this turn of events?
I don't think it would have inhibited my work, but it would have made me gloomier about my work.
When you wrote the first version of the book, without the benefit of the military and intelligence archives, did you have a feeling that you were missing something? That there were sources you didn't have access to that might substantially alter your view?
Well, I saw a lot of archives. I saw American, British, United Nations archives, and I saw quite a lot of Israeli archives as well. My feeling when I finished the research was that I had gotten the story more or less right, but that there were large gaps remaining and that certainly I needed the benefit of the military archives and intelligence archives to fill in these gaps. The archives which I've seen over the past decade, especially the Israeli military and intelligence archives, have basically confirmed my general understanding of what happened.
So there were no big surprises.
Not really. If anything, I was surprised at just how much had actually been written down, how thorough the Israeli military reporting was about their various actions and what they had done in terms of creating Palestinian refugees. The intelligence reports, largely by Arab intelligence agents working for Israeli intelligence, outlined what was happening in Arab villages, towns, and neighborhoods, and in the mixed towns of Haifa and Jerusalem, almost day by day.
Why do you think they were so thorough? Was that just efficiency? Was it paranoia?
I think it has to do with culture. There's a Jewish tradition of writing things. Jews like to write things. I think there was also a sense of importance among the officials and among the officers involvedand we're talking about hundreds of thema sense that they were engaged in something of historic importance and that therefore they should write everything down.
Do you think that they wrote these things down with a sense that they must be kept secret, that it would be dangerous to ever let the details of their operations get out to the public?
No, I don't. They took it for granted that everything they were doing was secret, but, unlike today's officials, I don't think they considered how the historian in fifty years' time would see things. In other words, they didn't think of their writing as something that would end up in history books fifty years hence, and that therefore they must be very careful about what they reported. The only person who actually thought in those termsthat the things he wrote down would become fodder for historianswas Ben Gurion.
You go into some detail in your book about Ben Gurion's hyperawareness of the public-relations implications of everything he did, and his caution in expressing support for transfer. You mention that he made disingenuous entries in his diary to throw historians off the scent of his support for transfer. How do you go about interpreting someone who went to such lengths to disguise what he thought?
He doesn't dissemble about everything, but he's very Machiavellian. He's extremely intelligent, and he's very, very careful and serious about the things he puts down on paper. This is clear. Now, how do we know this? We know this because when he meets other people, sometimes these other people also write diary entries about the meetings. And consistently when you compare these entries, these documents, you see that Ben Gurion is always omitting mention of things which in some ways could be seen as morally dubious by later generations of historians. Things like the destruction of Arab villages and the expulsion of Arabs. The man was extremely clever, and I think he understood that he was setting up a state. He understood this more or less from the beginning of his political activity in the beginning of the twentieth century. And I think he understood the way history works, the way propaganda works, the way historians can feed into the political process later in the day. He took great care not to give historians hostages, in the form of intemperate or morally careless or dubious remarks. That doesn't mean that his diaries are all one big pack of lies. They aren't. They're actually very useful, a major source for historians about the whole of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. But you have to be very careful to use them in correlation with other texts.
You place a lot of importance in your revised book on talk of transfer prior to the war, not only among Israelis, but among the British and the Arabs as well. If there was no master plan to expel the Palestinians, why was this pre-war talk so important?
Well, this is a subject of controversy among Israelis today. Did Zionist leadership support the idea of transfer or expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs before the '48 war? Traditionally, Zionist historians rejected the idea. They say there was no consensus, there was no support for transfer of the Arabs before '48 and therefore what happened in '48 was completely haphazard, a function of what happened in the battlefields. And Arabs would say that this isn't true, that the Zionists went into the war with a master plan to expel all the Arabs. As proof of this they point to the discussions about transfer and a consensus during the 1930s and '40s. Now, in the first edition, I didn't give the subject sufficient space or sufficient importance. I noticed that Zionist leaders had occasionally discussed the subject in the 1930s and the 1940s against the backdrop of the persecution of Jews in Europe and against the backdrop of the Holocaust, when there was a driving urgency for the Jews to find a safe haven in Palestine. The Arabs didn't want the Jews to come here, so they populated the land. Therefore in some way they would have to be displaced if there was to be room for those Jews the Zionist movement wanted to save from Europe. We're talking about millions of people. So you can see that there were these discussions and there was support for the idea of transfer. But what emerges from the wider reading that I did during the last few years before producing this new version of the book is that the loose talk, the occasional discussions about the subject, never amounted to anything concrete.
Douglas Brinkley, in the NYT (Feb. 17, 2004):
While most Americans were celebrating Presidents' Day yesterday, a very different holiday was being honored in Princeton, N.J. George F. Kennan, who formulated the policy of "containment" of the Soviet Union during the early cold war, turned 100. Surrounded by his wife and four children the frail Mr. Kennan diplomat, historian and sometimes Cassandra had reached a birthday he never imagined.
"The last thing he ever expected was to live so long," said his biographer, John Lewis Gaddis, a professor of history and political science at Yale. "As a young man he was often sick. During his freshman year at Princeton he had scarlet fever and was forced to drop out. He never felt himself to be healthy. Ulcers were a constant problem."
Though pleased at Mr. Kennan's longevity, Mr. Gaddis also finds himself stymied. In 1982 he agreed not to publish his biography of Mr. Kennan while the diplomat was alive.
Mr. Gaddis first met Mr. Kennan in 1974 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, when Mr. Gaddis, teaching at Ohio University, was considered a rising star in the field of the history of American diplomacy, having already published "The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947."
Mr. Kennan had joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton after quitting the diplomatic service in 1953. In 1977 Mr. Gaddis interviewed him for an essay for Foreign Affairs, on the 30th anniversary of Mr. Kennan's famous "Sources of Soviet Conduct" analysis, known in countless history books as the Mr. X article, since Mr. Kennan remained anonymous at the time.
But their relationship jelled in 1982 when Mr. Gaddis published "Strategies of Containment," judging Mr. Kennan to be the pivotal foreign policy analyst in post-1945 America. "He wrote me a couple of generous letters about that book," Mr. Gaddis recalled. "He basically said that I properly understood his strategic thinking."
Mr. Gaddis asked Mr. Kennan if anybody was writing his biography; the response was self-deprecating: "No. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to."
An admirer of Ronald Steel's biography, "Walter Lippmann and the American Century" (1980), Mr. Gaddis struck a deal with Mr. Kennan modeled on the one Mr. Steel had arranged with Lippmann: he would be his authorized biographer, have access to all of his papers, but publish his book only after his subject had died.
"The agreement was made in 1982," Mr. Gaddis recalled. "He was 78 years old. Neither of us envisioned he would be around in 2004. In fact I was thinking the other day about Boswell's relationship with Samuel Johnson, which went on for 20 years. It's hard to believe, but this one has gone on longer."
Mr. Gaddis is not complaining. His friendship with Mr. Kennan has deepened, and his subject's historical prominence continues to rise. Besides regular access to Mr. Kennan, Mr. Gaddis has had the rare privilege of reading all of his unpublished diaries, which he says are "classic American literature," an eloquent successor to John Quincy Adams's voluminous effort a century earlier.