The Gentleman From New York by Godfrey Hodgson

Godfrey Hodgson, The Gentleman From New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000.

From the publisher:
Coinciding with his departure from the United States Senate after twenty-four years of distinguished service, this major work is the first comprehensive account of the life and ideas of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a great political figure and a brilliant and complex man. Godfrey Hodgson, a highly regarded expert on American politics and history, has known Senator Moynihan for four decades and had full access to him and to his political papers while preparing this book. In addition, he interviewed dozens of Moyhnihan’s friends, aides, and antagonists.

Both admiring and critical, this balanced portrait follows Moynihan’s rise from an unpromising childhood in a broken middle-class family (not, as many believe, a tenement boyhood in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen). It explains how a self-described “birthright Democrat” could decide to work for Richard Nixon, and how a man elected to the Senate as the darling of the neoconservatives could come to oppose Ronald Reagan and fight for the goals of mainstream Democrats. It deals at length with Moynihan’s sometimes embattled tenure as our ambassador to India and to the United Nations. Above all, it is the history of a mind, portraying Moynihan as a prophet who again and again saw through the conventional wisdom of liberals and conservatives alike, and who expressed his insights with clarity, vigor, and not a little wit. From “benign neglect” to “defining deviancy down,” his formulation of some of the central problems of American society are sure to remain part of our national discourse for years to come.

Among the many prominent people who appear in these pages, some in fascinating behind-the-scenes encounters, are Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon; Henry Kissinger; Indira Gandhi; and Elizabeth Moynihan, the senator’s wife and a remarkable figure in her own right. This splendid biography powerfully illuminates the life and ideas of a courageous, controversial, truly impressive American, whose entire career embodies a sustained faith in the possibility of a Great Society.