LATE ON THE MORNING of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart climbed into the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra airplane on a small grass runway in Lae, New Guinea. She was 22,000 flight miles into her daring attempt to fly around the world, a journey that had captivated Americans since she lifted off from Miami a month earlier. Now Earhart was facing the most dangerous leg of the trip: a 19-hour, 2,556-mile flight to a tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean known as Howland Island. Earhart’s celebrity had grown formidable in the decade since her transatlantic flight, the first ever by a female pilot.
"I think it must be terrible to hate as many things as Mr. [Westbrook] Pegler hates, and I would be unhappy I think and therefore I'm afraid that he's unhappy and I'm sorry for him because after all we all grow older and we all have to live with ourselves and I think that must sometimes be difficult for Mr. Pegler." --Eleanor Roosevelt to Mike Wallace, Nov. 23, 1957, "The Mike Wallace Interview." "I don't think architecture is for the mob. It certainly isn't for education.
The president has found his fall guy, his collective fall guy, for his failure to see that several sort-of U.S. allies were in terrible trouble: The intelligence community, we are now told, was to blame. But the truth is that, if anyone is at fault for misreading the Arab world, it is Barack Obama himself. Not that many other presidents and their administrations have seen these realities clearly. (John Foster Dulles, secretary of state to Dwight Eisenhower, believed he could transform the Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser from a Soviet satrap into a pro-Western republic.
The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History By Samuel Moyn (Belknap Press, 337 pp., $27.95) In 1807, in Yorkshire, activists hit the campaign trail for William Wilberforce, whose eloquent parliamentary fight against Britain’s slave trade had won surprising success. “O we’ve heard of his Cants in Humanity’s Cause/While the Senate was hush’d, and the land wept applause,” they sang.
Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City By Anthony Flint (Random House, 256 pp., $27) For urbanists and others, the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs was the great titanic struggle of the twentieth century. Like the bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, their conflict has magnified significance, as the two figures have become symbols. Jacobs is the secular saint of street life, representing a humane approach to urban planning grounded in the messy interactions of the neighborhood.
Women are always in the wrong--particularly in politics. Our culture is sexist, and we don't even see it. Gloria Steinem said, "We'll do anything not to elect a woman." Women are attacked whenever we go public. Think of Eleanor Roosevelt, Bella Abzug--and Hillary Clinton. So Clinton has run a gauntlet. All her life. From Wellesley student to Yale student to lawyer to governor's wife to First Lady to senator to presidential candidate. I get it. I've run that gauntlet on a much smaller scale--and I don't even want to live in the White House. My heart goes out to her.
On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country ...
SINCE THE 1960S, WHEN Michael McClure imagined Billy the Kid humping Jean Harlow in The Beard and Barbara Garson had Lyndon Johnson whacking Jack Kennedy in MacBird, it has grown obvious that actual people, often still among us, have become the grist of American playwriting. In one recent week alone, a musical opened by Michael John LaChiusa called First Lady Suite, featuring Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and Mamie Eisenhower, along with a semi-fictional comedy by A.R. Gurney called Mrs. Farnsworth, about a Vassar woman who may or may not have been impregnated by George W.
A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon (Random House, 333 pp., $25.95) Are rights universal? Can diverse people, across religious and ethnic differences, agree about what rights people have? Might it be possible to produce agreements about the content of rights among people from different nations--not simply England, America, Germany, and France, but China, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, Iran, Kenya, Egypt, Uganda, Cuba, and Japan, too? What would such an agreement look like?
President Kennedy, we're reminded by his biographers, understood the need for politicians to maintain their public dignity at all costs. When Hugh Sidey of Time playfully reported that Kennedy had posed with his family for the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly, "modelling a trimly tailored dark gray suit," Kennedy became apoplectic at the thought that he might be considered frivolous or effeminate for appearing in a flashy men's fashion magazine. " Anybody who read this would think I was crazy," he raged at Sidey, according to Richard Reeves.