Title Reviewed:
Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson.

Author Reviewed:
John Bartlow Martin

William B. Pickett


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 177-178

Article Type:
Book Review

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Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson. By John Bartlow Martin. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977. Pp. 946. Notes, illustrations, index. $15.00.)

The last volume of John Bartlow Martin's two-volume biography of Adlai E. Stevenson is essential reading for anyone who would understand fully the twice-defeated Democratic presidential candidate and the main issues of American foreign and domestic politics between 1952 and 1965. The author was an adviser and speechwriter to Stevenson and later envoy of Democratic presidents, serving as ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 1962 to 1964. He is now a professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Martin shows that there was much to admire about Stevenson, a man who was ahead of his times in many areas of political concern and who had the quality often rare in politicians of being in private what he appeared to be in public. He was not an intellectual, but he appreciated and attracted the support of intellectuals, making their best ideas part of his programs. Only moderate in his support of school desegregation in the South, he called for the federal government to concern itself with what historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a key adviser, termed "the quality of American life" (p. 125) and laid the groundwork for what would become the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson. Stevenson feared communist expansion and accepted American involvement in Vietnam, but he supported efforts to reduce world tension through disarmament. Influenced by his friendship with British economist and writer, Barbara Ward, he scorned the cold war rhetoric of John Foster Dulles and called for the United States to appeal to the countries of the third world by its example as a humane and tolerant society and by its participation in the United Nations.

The major difficulty with the book is its length. The author's apparent desire to include all of Stevenson's activities makes the book at times more a travelogue, collection of documents, or diary than a biography. Too often the author has included information which seems unnecessary, such as: "In March, Stevenson spoke at Colgate and at North Carolina State College; he spent weekends at Libertyville; and time in Chicago." This tendency is unfortunate because Martin's sound historical knowledge and commitment to accuracy have caused him to be dispassionate and judicious when he does venture opinions. He shows, for instance, that Stevenson was frequently self-deprecating and soul-searching when he should have been decisive. Stevenson also gave some poor speeches at crucial times, such as after receiving the 1956 Democratic nomination for president.

Despite its shortcomings, the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Unlike the broadly thematic and interpretive earlier biographies by Alden Whitman, Herbert J. Muller, and Bert Cochran, Martin's book draws upon the primary sources. The author's personal acquaintance with Stevenson, full access to his papers, and interviews with nearly all his friends and associates have enabled him to perform the biographer's task of evaluating Stevenson the man, the politician, and the diplomat in the context of his times.

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute

William B. Pickett

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.