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Alden Whitman

May 2024
1min read

Book critic and historian; author of American Reformers

Most overrated:

John F. Kennedy. The glitz and dazzle of his Camelot conceal the false dawn of his New Frontier. It is easily forgotten that his Presidency enmeshed us irretrievably in Southeast Asia and set us on a destructive course of anti-Russian arms buildup. Moreover, the Camelot court at the White House was far more show than substance, and has in my opinion contributed to many of the delusions we now harbor about domestic peace and tranquillity.

Most underrated:

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884). Often regarded as merely an accomplished orator, he typifies the great reform concerns of his century, to which he contributed generative ideas. These concerns, which make him a representative personality, include antislavery; women’s rights, going beyond the ballot inequality; and workers’ rights, including the eight-hour day and unions to buffer the effects of rapid industrialization. He also supported penal reform and humane treatment for the mentally disturbed. The “Brahmin radical,” as Phillips has often been called, is almost totally neglected in our schools and colleges, and there is no adequate current biography. He richly merits rediscovery and fresh laurels for his ideas about the nature of a democratic United States.

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