Alan Brinkley

Alan Brinkley is Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University and the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century.

Recent Articles

Becoming Obama

The life of Barack Obama is a tale of post-civil rights movement racial politics.

(White House/Pete Souza)
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick Alfred A. Knopf, 672 pages, $29.95 Many books have already been written about Barack Obama -- the two most successful of them so far by Obama himself -- and many more books will be written about him during and after his presidency. But for the moment, the most thorough account of Obama's life to date is David Remnick's deeply researched and eloquently written biography. Remnick does not substantially challenge the story that Obama himself has presented, but he goes well beyond Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope and presents a deeper and more complicated story. It does little to tarnish Obama's image but differs at times from his own accounts. Remnick's purpose here is not just to present the story of Obama's unusual and very interesting life. It is also to trace the extraordinary path of the first African American to enter the White House. The title of the book, The Bridge , is drawn from a statement by civil-...

What's Next?

This time there are no excuses -- no thwarted popular majority, no fatal butterfly ballots or hanging chads, no renegade Supreme Court decision, no Nader factor. This was a defeat, pure and simple -- not a landslide, not an unambiguous mandate for the policies of the Bush administration, but unmistakably a defeat. So where do Democrats, and liberal-progressive Democrats in particular, go from here? It will be tempting, as it always is, to blame the candidate and the campaign. John Kerry was never anyone's idea of a perfect candidate. Yet he helped unite Democrats in a way they have not been united in a generation, raised more money than any Democrat has ever raised, campaigned with extraordinary energy and commitment, bested the president in three debates, attacked the policies of the administration sharply and forthrightly, mobilized the party's base successfully, and received 4 million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000. Perhaps a candidate with greater political skills might have...

Based on a True Story

My Life By Bill Clinton • Knopf • 957 pages • $35.00 Presidential memoirs are among the worst of all literary genres. That is not because they are invariably self-serving and less than wholly honest. Even the greatest memoirs are both. It is because they are relentlessly inauthentic. One can read the memoirs of virtually every postwar president without learning anything of importance about the men who wrote them, even in those relatively rare instances when the man was actually the former president himself. Instead, the reader confronts what is, in effect, an official state document, vetted by many hands, carefully edited to offend no one and to reveal nothing of importance, written with a lofty, statesmanlike dullness. Unsurprisingly, historians writing about recent presidents make little use of their memoirs, and readers wanting to learn about the men also steer a wide path around these books. But a small number of presidential memoirs are of value to students of the...

Liberty, Community, and the National Idea

Is a renewed emphasis on the value of community the answer to our political woes? Not if it's defined in purely local terms.

N othing is so central to America's image of itself as the idea of individual liberty. It is, we believe, what spurred many of the first European settlers to leave their homelands and come to our shores. It drove the revolutionaries who broke with England and created a new nation. It shaped the Constitution and, above all, the Bill of Rights. And it has been, we claim, the defining characteristic of our democracy for more than two centuries. It is true, of course, that rights and freedoms have been central to our history and basic to our political and social system. But they have not been the only force shaping our public world. At least equally important, through most of American history, has been the idea of community. In our present political world, there is considerable anxiety about how successfully the idea of community has survived in the twentieth century and considerable criticism of the preoccupation with rights that many critics claim has dominated (and distorted) both...

Liberalism's Third Crisis

This isn't the first time liberals have faced reverses and needed to reframe their ideas.

T his is a pivotal moment in our recent political history. The 1994 elections may or may not represent a lasting realignment of party loyalties. But even if they do not, they are clear evidence of something at least equally important. They reveal how massively government, politics, and the liberalism that has for decades largely shaped them have lost popular support, even popular legitimacy. With their longstanding assumptions about public life under siege, many liberals are in the throes of a crisis of confidence. Whatever forms liberalism takes as a result, they will almost certainly be different from those we have known. But as extraordinary as this moment may seem, it is not unprecedented. There are at least two examples in the twentieth century of a comparable (if perhaps less abrupt) collapse in popular confidence in a prevailing model of liberal politics and government, and of the creation of another model to replace it. Liberals searching for an answer to their present...