Arthur never lost his curiosity–or the essential modesty that a historian must have to be genuinely curious. I first met him as a 20-year-old student asking for help on my Williams College senior honors thesis. He was almost 60, but he always treated young people as though they were his peers. When I told him that “A Thousand Days” was the first adult book I ever read, he said, with those snapping eyes and wry grin, “Well, my father was much more distinguished than I am!”
Schlesinger made two particular contributions to the way American history is written and read in 2007. Although he was an academic, he insisted that history should not just be a social science but also page-turning literature. He was very conscious of the fact that his New England ancestor George Bancroft was one of America’s great romantic narrative historians. I can remember the chill that went down my spine at the age of 10 when I finished “A Thousand Days” — a thousand pages after the book starts, “It all began in the cold,” it ends, “It all ended, as it began, in the cold.”
Hmmm. My daughter is 10. Perhaps “A Thousand Days” should be her next book . . . or maybe just the next entry in the Warriors series. Whatever.