Feature

Richard D. Heffner

Richard Heffner is host of The Open Mind, public television’s longest-running interview program. His most recent book is A Conversational History of Modern America.

Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann (Free Press, $14). Though my students at Rutgers University often complain that this book’s references to pre-1922 public figures and events are dated, Lippmann’s profound understanding of the importance of a well-informed public to human survival makes this American classic very much a guide to the present.

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro (Vintage, $22). Together with Caro’s brilliant first three volumes on the life of Lyndon Johnson, this extraordinary look at New York’s Robert Moses makes up perhaps the most important study of modern American political power ever undertaken.

The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter (Vintage, $14). My former teacher’s vastly critical chapter on Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“Patrician as Opportunist”) stands in provocative contrast to his consistently more understanding—and forgiving—analyses of the men who made our political tradition. Taken together, they constitute the most brilliant statement ever on American political leadership.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (Signet, $8). The young Frenchman’s classic critique of democracy and the absolute sovereignty of the people is a perceptive, prophetic description of the impact of majority rule upon the dynamics of American society, upon the way Americans think and feel and act, upon the nature of our freedoms.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (Viking, $14). No one took more seriously Marshall McLuhan’s insistence that “the medium is the message” than did the late, great Neil Postman. The subtitle of this learned and delightful book, which I assign each year to my students, tells it all: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860–1861

The Nation

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