ADLAI STEVENSON AND THE WORLD: The Life of Adlai Stevenson by John Bartlow Martin
Kirkus Star

ADLAI STEVENSON AND THE WORLD: The Life of Adlai Stevenson

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This is the sequel to the impressive Adlai Stevenson of Illinois (1976) by John Bartlow Martin, one of Stevenson's close advisers and speechwriters. It is extremely stimulating and--especially to admirers of Stevenson--extremely depressing. The stimulating part comes in 1952-56. Though sorely defeated by Eisenhower, the former Midwestern governor has become a major figure in national Democratic politics. A major figure, not a self-moving force, however, by Martin's account. He presents Stevenson as a perpetual captive of what George Ball called ""those rich New York women,"" and of his own dilettantism, Stevenson always preferred gab to books, Martin notes regretfully, protested ""why do I have to give them all that crap about labor"" during campaigns; in 1956 he became so morose, petty, and foggy that ""many on the staff considered it a losing race from the start."" In the course of describing the fight for the nomination and the second fight for the presidency, Martin takes a fresh look at the whole Democratic lineup (Averell Harriman was promoting himself and Estes Kefauver against Stevenson on behalf of a more ""radical"" thrust). After Stevenson loses even more dramatically than in 1952, Martin's keen political autopsy turns into a rather bitter portrait of the slow death of a man. It is sad, though far from unconvincing, to read anecdote after anecdote, quotation after quotation, about Stevenson's pudginess, querulousness, dissipation, and relegation to ""a microcosm,"" as Ball put it, during his United Nations ambassadorship. Though exploring the background of his stands on Cuba, the Congo, and so forth, Martin makes Stevenson a shallow, pathetic figure even before he allegedly took to passing out every night. His ""rich New York women"" seem to agree. Agnes Meyer: ""a mother's boy."" Marietta Tree: ""He just enjoyed talking about himself."" Another friend, Barbara Ward, was perhaps most to the point, however: ""a very 18th-century character."" Martin will draw fire for this remarkable portrait; but, beyond controversy, the book is rich and memorable enough to last.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday