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IN SEARCH OF HISTORY: A Personal Expedition by Theodore H. White Kirkus Star

IN SEARCH OF HISTORY: A Personal Expedition


Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row

Theodore H. White's volume of memoirs is suffused with the feeling that the American ideal of ""Opportunity"" and White himself, who believed in the simple goodness of that ideal and the ""heroes"" it produced, both have reached a perplexing cul-de-sac. So he has looked for the meaning in his own experience, and reviewed the historical uses and abuses of power that he has witnessed, in an effort to understand why America is in danger of being ""transformed in the name of Opportunity simply into a Place, a gathering of discretely defined and entitled heritages."" Inevitably, these two sides of the story blend into one, for between the late 1930s and 1963 White's life was largely a search for the ""names and personalities"" which are a reporter's ""credit references."" And his success in finding the central star in any given power constellation lends a fascination and liveliness to his account of his journey from Boston's Jewish ghetto, via Harvard, to Asia and Europe, through five presidential campaigns, and finally, in 1976, back to a Boston transformed by demo graphic shifts and scarred by racial hatreds. Here there are enough ""big names"" and anecdotes to satisfy anyone, from John Fairbanks, his tutor at Harvard, to Chou En-Lai, who enticed White to eat pork in Chungking, to Harry Luce, Mao, Stillwell, John F. Kennedy, and more. Yet White's desire to accomplish something besides mere reportage, and especially his attempt at soul-searching--largely confined to the six interpretive sections awkwardly written in the third person--give the work an air of almost embarrassing pretension. In the face of so much name dropping, it is hard to accept White's largely self-deprecating introspection (at the outset, ""he had been. . . almost too fashionable in his reporting for too many years""). It is equally hard to accept his expressions of self-pity, the complaint, among others, that he has been so misused by the famous people to whom he offered devotion that ""I am as wary of friendship with the great as a reformed drunkard of the taste of alcohol."" Such statements are not the products of modesty but of a wounded self-esteem; he appears to believe that he deserved more and better from the American dream in return for his blind faith. The fruit of his reflections, then, is the identification of his own dissatisfactions with the fate of his country. In this he is not, however, completely wrong. Like the country he loves, White no longer knows what to do with a success that has come, overnight, to taste of ashes.