JAVITS: The Autobiography of a Public Man by Jacob K. with Rafael Steinberg Javits

JAVITS: The Autobiography of a Public Man

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Admirers of New York's longtime (1957-81) liberal Republican senator had better cherish their memories: Javits, a formidable campaigner, doesn't transfer well to paper. At 500 pages, for one thing, the book is just too long; even so interesting a matter as Javits' indecisiveness, at an ailing 76, about running again in 1980 doesn't warrant ten pages--of mostly ""duty and conscience"" vs. ""my physical condition"" and ""the lure of life in New York."" Then, too, he has been infected (or inoculated) with the current penchant for telling all--not only about his boyhood on the Lower East Side (ten-year-old Jack hawked patched-up kitchenware) and his law practice (representing little-guy claimants in big-time bankruptcy cases), but also apropos of his mixed feelings about big brother/law partner Ben, his own first, failed marriage, his near-marriage to a singer (queered by ""the deepseated sectarianism of her parents""), and, at chapter-length, ""Marion and Me"" (i.e., their mostly-successful separate lives--but had he ""been able to utilize"" her ""talents to the fullest,"" he might have been a v-p or presidential candidate). It's stiff, stilted, ultimately demeaning stuff, for the most part--and the prelude, unfortunately, to a lusterless presentation of Javits' public life as he'd like to be remembered. There are rewards, however, for the selective reader. Out to win a Congressional seat in 1946 (after WW II exposure to ""Potomac fever""), Javits searched for a ""Democratic district where the chances of a Republican victory would be slight--and where I, a neophyte, might be welcomed by the Republican organization."" His upset victory then made him instantly known. Eager for local office after three terms in the House, he overlooked a first Dewey rebuff (re the mayoralty) to put himself forward again--on the basis that ""I'm the only Republican who can beat FDR Junior"" for the attorney-generalship. That triumph--the only victory on the ticket--set Javits up to run, against Robert Wagner, Jr., for the Senate. He speaks out, too, on the discomforts of being an urban, liberal Republican legislator--committed to civil rights, low-cost housing and rent control, health care, Israel, internationalism--and specifically on how he progressed from ""cold-shouldered outsider to respected insider"" in the Senate. But much space is occupied by bland, detailed recaps of legislative struggles and many, many platitudinous restatements of belief. Meanwhile, he hedges on Rockefeller and remains discreet about Nixon. A disappointment, then, but not without specifically political interest.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin