A Biography of an American Family
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 A wide-ranging biography of perennial also-ran Adlai Stevenson which demonstrates that character is destiny. Stevenson has been the subject of several recent books, but Baker (History/ Goucher Coll.; Mary Todd Lincoln, 1987) affords his life a depth, historical and personal, that few other writers have acknowledged. She traces Stevenson's family history at length to Scotland, then Ulster, the adopted home of many Presbyterian Scots who would later fuel America's expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The Stevensons were actors in that expansion, moving from Pennsylvania across into Kentucky after Daniel Boone opened that territory, later settling in the fertile bottomlands of Illinois, where they would become farmers, solid citizens, and important politicians (Stevenson's grandfather was Grover Cleveland's second-term vice president). Baker suggests that with this pedigree Stevenson could have become nothing but a leader. Long portrayed as a misunderstood saint of American politics, Stevenson turns out in Baker's account to have had the full range of human frailties. He conducted simultaneous affairs with two women--a journalist and a State Department assistant secretary; both evidently believed that Stevenson would divorce his long-suffering wife to marry them. As governor of Illinois, he illegally paid bonuses to favorite political aides from a private fund. ``Blinkered by self-righteousness,'' Baker writes, ``Stevenson overlooked any possibility of influence peddling on him.'' For all that, he emerges as an unjustly abused fellow, smeared by his association with Alger Hiss, derided as an ``egghead'' by Dwight Eisenhower, and calumniated by such right-wing propagandists as Walter Winchell, who, believing Herbert Hoover's assertion that Stevenson was homosexual, proclaimed, ``A vote for Adlai Stevenson is a vote for [transsexual] Christine Jorgensen and a woman in the White House.'' Baker writes with sympathy and considerable vigor, and this fine biography takes a refreshingly long view of an important figure in recent political history.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03874-2
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1995


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