Historian Arthur Schlesinger Dies Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. died of a heart attack Wednesday night. He was 89. Schlesinger's books included Robert Kennedy and His Times, the Kennedy administration chronicle A Thousand Days and The Age of Jackson.
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Historian Arthur Schlesinger Dies

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Historian Arthur Schlesinger Dies

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Dies

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Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.


I'm Alex Chadwick. The historian Arthur Schlesinger - and we checked. That is the pronunciation. It's Slay-singer rather than Schlesinger - he died last night in New York City. He wrote about John Kennedy's presidency. He was an aide to the president. A lot of what we remember from those days comes from his book "A Thousand Days." Here's NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: In the days after John Kennedy's funeral, Jacqueline Kennedy once famously said she didn't want a historian to write her husband's legacy. Historians, she said, are bitter, old men. Walter Isaacson is the former editor in chief of Time magazine and an old friend of Arthur Schlesinger. He says Mrs. Kennedy needn't have worried about this historian.

Mr. WALTER ISAACSON (Former Editor in Chief, Time Magazine): Arthur was definitely not a bitter, old man. He was a man of great joy, of great sparkle and wit, and I think he certainly disproved that to Mrs. Kennedy, because when she was a widow, he used to squire her around.

BATES: Schlesinger came by his discipline honestly. His father, Arthur, Sr., had been a well-respected Harvard history professor. In this NPR interview in 2000, Schlesinger talks with Daniel Schorr about the responsibility inherent in writing history.

Mr. ARTHUR SCHLESINGER (Historian): Historians, like everybody else, are prisoners of their own experience, and they often read back into the past the preoccupations of the present.

BATES: Schlesinger went on to say that there are movements and groups of people that, in hindsight, were always present, just waiting to be noticed.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Now we look back and see the role of women, the role of minorities, and it gives a different cast to American history.

BATES: Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in the Midwest, until his father moved the family to Cambridge to accept a teaching position at Harvard. Arthur, Jr., graduated there, summa cum laude. When he was just 27 years old, Schlesinger published his first historical tome, "The Age of Jackson." It was a reassessment of Andrew Jackson's presidency, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Even as he continued to write and teach history, Schlesinger was active in Democratic Party politics. After watching America reject his candidate Adlai Stevenson, for what some considered overly intellectual musings, he backed a fellow Harvard alumnus from Massachusetts: John F. Kennedy. After Kennedy's 1960 victory, Schlesinger was appointed a special assistant to the new president. Walter Isaacson.

Mr. ISAACSON: John Kennedy brings him inside the White House, and people ask Kennedy whether Schlesinger's going to write the official history, and Kennedy says, I'm going to write my own history, but Arthur will certainly write his, and it's better to have him on the inside.

BATES: Which is where Schlesinger remained for the entire administration. "A Thousand Days" was a best-seller. It also received a Pulitzer, although some critics thought Schlesinger was too close to his material to be completely objective. Schlesinger worked with the Johnson administration very briefly, then went on to work for Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign, which ended with the senator's assassination.

Schlesinger left electoral politics, but continued to write and assess other U.S. presidents, this time from the outside. In his later years, he warned against the dangers of cultural separatism and the folly of the War in Iraq. But, says Isaacson, he never lost his enthusiasm for life.

Mr. ISAACSON: He was a great believer in the joy of social life. He loved the movies, he loved parties, he loved great dinners, and he really loved a well made martini.

BATES: Arthur Schlesinger died in New York last night while dining out with his family. He was 89 years old.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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