Books by Neil Jumonville

Released: March 1, 1999

A revealing, engaged assessment of the life and work of a man who taught thousands and was read by millions. Henry Steele Commager (1902—98) was a classic 20th-century liberal—a robust champion of civil liberties, dissent, and intellectual freedom. He was also an influential historian, long associated with Columbia University, and the co-author, with Samuel Eliot Morison, of The Growth of the American Republic, one of the most influential history texts of all time. Jumonville (Florida State Univ.), a student of postwar New York intellectuals (Critical Crossings, not reviewed), is Commager's sympathetic yet critical biographer. He captures his subject's inexhaustible energy and many friendships and examines his involvement in countless battles to advance and maintain non-Communist, democratic institutions and practices when they were under attack from left and right. Above all, Jumonville brilliantly assesses Commager's scholarship and writings and sets the historian in his intellectual and professional context. In fact, this is an extended reflection on both the achievements of an activist public intellectual who happened to be a historian and the tensions between activism and scholarship. Jumonville fails only in convincingly distinguishing between a scholar and an intellectual, as if one can't be—indeed, one must be—both. Otherwise, this fluent and graceful book will be read with pleasure and benefit by everyone interested in, among many other matters, the history of historical ideas, the rise of American Studies in universities, Columbia University itself, major currents of political debates, and the lives and ways of professors. It will surely appeal to the thousands who were affected by this great teacher in the classroom and exposed to his ideas at the public lectern. This astute, balanced study is a model of intellectual biography, which also succeeds in portraying the full life of the man—no small achievement. (16 photos, not seen) Read full book review >