Book Cover

A well-respected American diplomat looks back on his life and

Born in 1930 to a working-class family in Rochester, New York,
vanden Heuvel (On His Own: Robert F. Kennedy, 1964-1968, 1970, etc.)
grew up in Franklin Roosevelt’s America, and he is one of the greatest
champions of FDR’s tidal wave of justice, which he sees as continued during the
tenure of Lyndon Johnson. The author attended Deep Springs College, a Western
ranch serving as a school to enrich self-governance and develop leadership and
public conscience. He continued his education at Cornell University, where he
earned a law degree and served as editor-in-chief of the college’s law review.
He writes glowingly of his mentors, Roger Baldwin, founder of the American
Civil Liberties Union and the International League for Human Rights; and
William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services, who
gave vanden Heuvel his first position in his law firm. More importantly,
Donovan took him as a personal aide when he was appointed ambassador to
Thailand, and they were in Saigon to witness the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The author’s insight into the politics of those fraught times is clear and
straightforward, and he provides an interesting look at the civil rights
struggles of the 1960s and the “revolution of rising expectations.” Working as
a special assistant to Attorney Genereal Robert F. Kennedy, he
was tasked with leading school desegregation efforts in Virginia. His days as
chair of the New York City Board of Corrections brought the prison crisis of
Attica to public view, and as ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva and New York, he
delivered a memorable letter decrying the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Though the
organization of the book is somewhat scattered, with reproduced speeches
dotting the narrative, the author’s career was unquestionably impressive, and
his memoir makes for hopeful reading.

Of interest to 20th-century American history buffs and aspiring


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