TAKING ON THE WORLD by Robert W. Merry


Joseph and Stewart Alsop--Guardians of the American Century
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 A vigorous biography (the second this year: see Edwin M. Yoder Jr.'s Joe Alsop's Cold War, p. 156) of the brothers whose journalistic opinion shaped American foreign policy through much of the Cold War. Writing in journals like the Saturday Evening Post, the New York Herald Tribune, and especially Newsweek, Joseph (191089) and Stewart (191474) Alsop espoused militant anticommunism and a robust vision of America as the world's one rightful superpower. They grew up among affluent bluebloods who would advise America's postwar leaders, and they had unprecedented access to presidents from Truman to Carter. Under the Kennedy administration the Alsops reached their zenith as shapers of opinion, offering the president their views on sweeping matters of state and translating Kennedy's aims for their readers. Joseph, the better known of the two, was ``an aristocrat with aristocratic tastes and an aristocratic bearing,'' and also a world-traveling ``shoe-leather reporter.'' Stewart was the more analytical, given to ``long expository pieces designed to lay bare the inner workings of government and the intricacies of major issues.'' Reaching millions of readers, this journalistic tag team redefined the role of the media in American politics, exerting an influence that Merry, executive editor of Congressional Quarterly Publications and former Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent, masterfully explores. (Those who complain that the so-called liberal news media enjoy too much power today ought to note that the way was paved by archconservatives.) But the Alsops were not mere cheerleaders for the power elite, Merry writes; they criticized several administrations for not confronting Russian and Chinese communist expansion more directly. And whereas both Alsops are remembered as hawks, Merry shows that the confusion of Vietnam caused them more than once to reconsider. In the aftermath of that fiasco, their faith in American power bowed but not broken, Joseph summed up their beliefs: ``Nothing endures, because there is always change, and there is always war.'' An important and thoroughly well written addition to the literature on ``the American century.'' (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-83868-3
Page count: 672pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995


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