PEPPER: Eyewitness to a Century by Claude Denson with Hays Gorey Pepper

PEPPER: Eyewitness to a Century

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Miami Congressman Pepper, a New Deal liberal still walking tall at age 87, has had an unusual two-part career, first as a young senator and friend of FDR, now as congressional king of the elderly. The country-boy wisdom that guides his autobiography may not be profound, but it is warm-hearted, smart, and entertaining. Unlike Ronald Reagan, our other elderly leader, who extracted his political convictions from small-town, pre-depression America, Pepper gained from his upbringing in poor, rural Alabama a solid faith that government has the most power to aid the sick and poor. By age 13 he signed his name ""Claude Pepper, U.S. Senator,"" and it didn't take long: the University of Alabama, Harvard Law, the Florida legislature at 28, a rousing but unsuccessful Senate bid in 1934, followed by appointment to a vacated seat two years later. His oratorical talent and fidelity to the New Deal quickly captured FDR; Pepper became a party tyro, active in conventions, traveling abroad to meet Hitler before the war and Churchill and Stalin after. He fell in 1950 to one of the nastiest red-smears on record, ran his own law firm for 12 years, then entered Congress in 1962, where he has been active as the founder of the Select Committee on Aging and chair of the House Rules Committee, allowing him to be the guardian angel of Social Security. But the book's true heart and real drama lie in the Senate years. Mildred, his now-deceased wife of 40 years, is a steady presence but not as colorful as the politicos. A light memoir--Pepper is too amiable a politician to probe deeply into the blights of racism and McCarthyism that scarred his career; nor does he truly dislike anyone but Nixon--but a fully satisfying one.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1987
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich