HENRY R. LUCE by Robert E. Herzstein


A Political Portrait of the Man Who Created the American Century
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 Herzstein (History/Univ. of South Carolina) offers a liberal's critical appraisal of the life, times, and fortunes of Henry Robinson Luce at the height of his considerable powers during the convulsive period that preceded and encompassed WW II. On the evidence of this impeccably researched text, however, ``promoted'' might have been a better choice of words than ``created'' for the subtitle. Which is not to say that the influential founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines would have quarreled with the author's overstated designation. Drawing on access to Luce's personal papers and those of his formidable wife, Clare Boothe, and from interviews with surviving colleagues, Herzstein presents a thematically organized account of an evangelist on a crusade. Born in China to Presbyterian missionaries in 1898, the Yale-educated publisher was a true believer in the US as an enlightened, interventionist force for good throughout a world beset by evil and despotism. Accordingly, Luce proselytized relentlessly on behalf of capitalism, Christianity, and the Republican Party. Although the grandeur of Luce's vision was sweeping, the realities of his workaday relations with notables and subordinates are equally fascinating. The author recounts how headstrong correspondents (Whittaker Chambers, John Hersey, Archibald MacLeish, et al.) caused their employer considerable grief in covering his beloved China, communism, the USSR, and other touchy subjects. And for all the help he had provided in combating isolationism on the home front, Luce never gained much favor with New Dealers. In the global marketplace for ideas, though, he made his mark, if only for a while. Although Luce lived until 1967, Herzstein halts the narrative at the start of the Cold War and closes with a hindsightful appreciation of where his protagonist's idealistic patriotism went wrong. Without ever diminishing Luce's achievements and contributions, in fact, the author manages to present him as a man who lacked the wisdom and wit to realize that his grand visions were, in fact, just that: visions. In brief, then, an interpretive, warts-and-all portrait of a consequential conservative. (8 pages of photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-684-19360-4
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1994


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