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Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Guardians of the American Century

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Blue-blooded journalists Joe and Stewart Alsop dominated the Washington press corps from the end of World War II to the defeat in Vietnam. Within their lifetimes, America was remade. This gripping 30-year history of these two giants of journalism and their relationships with America's Anglo-Saxon elite provides a window into a dynamic era in American history. Photos. Blue-blooded journalists Joe and Stewart Alsop dominated the Washington press corps from the end of World War II to the defeat in Vietnam. Within their lifetimes, America was remade. This gripping 30-year history of these two giants of journalism and their relationships with America's Anglo-Saxon elite provides a window into a dynamic era in American history. Photos.


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Blue-blooded journalists Joe and Stewart Alsop dominated the Washington press corps from the end of World War II to the defeat in Vietnam. Within their lifetimes, America was remade. This gripping 30-year history of these two giants of journalism and their relationships with America's Anglo-Saxon elite provides a window into a dynamic era in American history. Photos. Blue-blooded journalists Joe and Stewart Alsop dominated the Washington press corps from the end of World War II to the defeat in Vietnam. Within their lifetimes, America was remade. This gripping 30-year history of these two giants of journalism and their relationships with America's Anglo-Saxon elite provides a window into a dynamic era in American history. Photos.

40 review for Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Guardians of the American Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    M

    This is a terrific book about a world that no longer exists. Stewart and Joe Alsop, patrician brothers from Connecticut, took on the world of political reporting from the 1930s (in Joe's case; post-WWII in Stewart's case) to the 1970s. Well-regarded by politicians, power brokers, and readers, the brothers were prominent fixtures on the mid-century news scene, when people just like them were the ruling class, America was already great, and the American Century (1945 - 1975) was at its peak. As a This is a terrific book about a world that no longer exists. Stewart and Joe Alsop, patrician brothers from Connecticut, took on the world of political reporting from the 1930s (in Joe's case; post-WWII in Stewart's case) to the 1970s. Well-regarded by politicians, power brokers, and readers, the brothers were prominent fixtures on the mid-century news scene, when people just like them were the ruling class, America was already great, and the American Century (1945 - 1975) was at its peak. As a reader, you follow them from their childhoods in Avon, CT, to their deaths in Washington, DC, and what a journey it is! Joe is the somewhat snobby, somewhat pretentious, but very sincere and kind (to his friends and family!) older brother who harbors a well-known secret (view spoiler)[he's gay and marries a woman to cover for it (hide spoiler)] . Stewart is the cool, detached younger brother whose family life consists of 6 kids, a young wife, and lots of sports and social activities. (view spoiler)[He tragically dies from a rare form of leukemia in his 50s. (hide spoiler)] Meeting Joe, Stewart, their families, and their Washington friends and enemies is a fun journey, though one that's a bit too interspersed with squabbles between minor political and military characters, press gossip, and news items of the day. Learning about Stewart's habit of (view spoiler)[reciting Shakespeare sonnets in the shower (hide spoiler)] or Joe's (view spoiler)[love of Brussels sprouts with cream (hide spoiler)] is a much needed distraction and more interesting than reading about a petty newsroom meeting they took part in. Robert Merry does an excellent job of mixing the professional and the social in this book, providing commentary on why the social class and social mores the Alsop brothers lived and breathed got cut short. He seemed to make Joe a more fleshed out character compared to Stewart, though this could be a factor of Joe's larger-than-life personality and Stewart's more subdued one.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The names Woodward and Bernstein are probably still the first to come to mind when considering the high point of investigative journalism in the US. But for four decades before the Watergate scandal two brothers were pre-eminent in breaking the biggest stories of the time and delivering the most influential commentaries on them, the Alsops. Author Bob Merry brings the characters of Joseph and Stewart alive with a political insider’s eye on their methods and a firm grasp of historical background to The names Woodward and Bernstein are probably still the first to come to mind when considering the high point of investigative journalism in the US. But for four decades before the Watergate scandal two brothers were pre-eminent in breaking the biggest stories of the time and delivering the most influential commentaries on them, the Alsops. Author Bob Merry brings the characters of Joseph and Stewart alive with a political insider’s eye on their methods and a firm grasp of historical background to put their reporting into perspective. The brothers were prolific writers and they were golden. Four columns a week, every week, syndicated to 175 newspapers across the country, plus opinion pieces, extended investigative articles, political profiles, deep features and even books. With family ties to the Roosevelts and a privileged upbringing they started out with a stellar contacts book and they worked hard to cultivate even more by hosting high-level dinner parties for makers and shakers of all persuasions. There’s a wonderful anecdote from one of the parties in the 1950s in which a phone call for Dean Rusk, then the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, disrupts the evening. He takes the call, returns to the gathering looking ashen-faced and declares that he has to go. Within minutes Army Secretary Frank Pace and Air Force assistant secretary John McCone offer apologies and also depart abruptly. There had been, said Rusk, “some kind of border incident” in Korea. It was, in fact, a full-scale invasion of the south by the north and illustrates one of the themes that runs through the book, the Alsops proximity to the biggest breaking stories and their close ties to those in power. Joe saw eight presidents come and go during his time and he was a frequent guest at the White House where he was forthright with his opinions and free with his advice. He and his brother were among the original WASPs, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who wanted to preserve the mores and values of their caste and keep its place in shaping the destiny of the nation. They endured through the most turbulent times of the 20th Century: WW2 - from which Stewart emerged with a Croix de Guerre with Palm from Charles de Gaulle - the last gasps of the Pax Britannica, the “loss” of China to the communist party, wars in Korea and Vietnam, McCarthyism, the Oppenheimer affair, the Suez debacle, the Cuban missile crisis, the election and assassination of JFK, the Watts riots, and Nixon’s Watergate disgrace. As the world turned, Joe’s view of America’s place in the world became increasingly out of step with the opinions and aspirations of a younger generation. His writing became increasingly polemical and his influence less and less so. His last book, I’ve Seen the Best of It, underscores his belief that America’s best days were those when the old elite flourished and it comes with a sense of sad incomprehension that not everyone else could see it that way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    "Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Guardians of the American Century" by Robert W. Merry was a really good read, but not a keeper. It took me through the 40s - 60s, (the Alsops were syndicated in 175 newspapers) shows what access reporters use to have, that Joseph Alsop, an aggressive, opinionated guy who always had to have the last word, could actually help to steer US Foreign Policy by talking and challenging office holders - having full length conversations with them in their off "Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Guardians of the American Century" by Robert W. Merry was a really good read, but not a keeper. It took me through the 40s - 60s, (the Alsops were syndicated in 175 newspapers) shows what access reporters use to have, that Joseph Alsop, an aggressive, opinionated guy who always had to have the last word, could actually help to steer US Foreign Policy by talking and challenging office holders - having full length conversations with them in their office and parties at his brother's home with those office holder supporters thus always having a direct line to power, it is intriguing to read about. The author deals well with Joseph having been gay and the constant exposure and risk Joseph had to deal with. I enjoyed the book as well for the struggles his brother Stewart dealt with - his wife was an alcoholic which he blamed himself for b/c the family (four children) was never that important to him while he always played second-fiddle to his brother and tried to over-come it. They had a power-struggle even though both brothers were successful in their own right.

  4. 5 out of 5

    haetmonger

    '"Joe, I have the best joke to tell you," said the president. It seemed that a Soviet defector, then in the hands of the CIA at a New York safe house, had revealed that French military intelligence services were riddled with Soviet spies. "Our people believe him," said the president with a laugh, "and so I had the pleasure of sending our friend de Gaulle a handwritten letter by courier telling him that he had a problem." Kennedy added that de Gaulle's office had called immediately to request an '"Joe, I have the best joke to tell you," said the president. It seemed that a Soviet defector, then in the hands of the CIA at a New York safe house, had revealed that French military intelligence services were riddled with Soviet spies. "Our people believe him," said the president with a laugh, "and so I had the pleasure of sending our friend de Gaulle a handwritten letter by courier telling him that he had a problem." Kennedy added that de Gaulle's office had called immediately to request an opportunity to debrief the defector. "They're sending a top general over next week," he said. "Who is it?" asked Joe [i.e., Joseph Alsop]. You've probably never heard of him--fellow named Jean Louis de Rougemont." "Oh," exclaimed Susan Mary [Alsop], "he and his wife Louise are two of my closest friends." They all laughed at the small world they inhabited.'

  5. 5 out of 5

    Grindy Stone

    If your reading interests include the Cold War, mid-20th century politics, or the Vietnam War, you will frequently come across the Alsop brothers' names. This book is their shot at center stage, and after reading it I realize they're better as background characters. At least now I know which one is which: Joe the snob, Stewart the little brother with a bunch of kids. The brothers as subject of a bio might be more interesting if it were Gay Talese or David Halberstam writing about them. Merry tel If your reading interests include the Cold War, mid-20th century politics, or the Vietnam War, you will frequently come across the Alsop brothers' names. This book is their shot at center stage, and after reading it I realize they're better as background characters. At least now I know which one is which: Joe the snob, Stewart the little brother with a bunch of kids. The brothers as subject of a bio might be more interesting if it were Gay Talese or David Halberstam writing about them. Merry tells too many pat anecdotes with an uncritical eye, and the mincing, stage dialogue from Joe will make you cringe.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gary Turner

    I was totally surprised by this book. Thank you Robert W. Merry for opening my eyes to such an interesting family. This book is filled with wonderful stories. It is truly an insight to a part of America that not many people get to walk around enjoying such interesting and important people. Again, thanks.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Phil Archer

    A long, but well written account of the now mostly forgotten Alsop brothers,with all their triumps and misteps. It's also a story of how the symbiotic relation between journalism and politics affected the course of history at the height of the American Century. A long, but well written account of the now mostly forgotten Alsop brothers,with all their triumps and misteps. It's also a story of how the symbiotic relation between journalism and politics affected the course of history at the height of the American Century.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  9. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Rose

  10. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

  11. 5 out of 5

    D L

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lee Miller

  13. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Kabaservice

  14. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amelia Harrison

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Cimini

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Cecil

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

  20. 4 out of 5

    Seth Stern

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Mustread

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thom Dunn

  24. 5 out of 5

    Margie

  25. 4 out of 5

    B

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zach Cohen

  29. 4 out of 5

    John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sami Sayed

  31. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  32. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Jacobs

  33. 4 out of 5

    Paul Decker

  34. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  35. 5 out of 5

    Saroja

  36. 5 out of 5

    Alasdair Ekpenyong

  37. 4 out of 5

    Joe Phillips

  38. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

  39. 5 out of 5

    Gabor

  40. 5 out of 5

    John Berringer

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