The Black Book: American Politics and History as Experienced by Five Generations of an American Family by Adlai E. Stevenson III

Page Updated: Jun 11, 2017
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Adlai E. Stevenson III
Adlai E. Stevenson III
Date of release


The Black Book: American Politics and History as Experienced by Five Generations of an American Family

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Book review

The Black Book began as a brown loose-leaf binder in which my great-grandfather, Adlai E. Stevenson I (1836-1914), collected anecdotes and maxims, stories and sayings during his life as a county prosecutor, congressman, Assistant Postmaster General and U.S. Vice President under Grover Cleveland. His grandson, known to friends and family as 'the Guv,' expanded the collection in a large black binder during his life as an official in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations, Governor of Illinois, Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.

This binder, The Black Book, was stuffed with the Guv s and Adlai I s notes jotted on menus, place cards, napkins, whatever was at hand. Supporters and friends contributed as word of the Black Book spread. The Guv s staff, mine later, edited and organized this trove as a ready source of jokes, anecdotes, aphorisms, wise comment, solace and inspiration, often unattributed in the heat of the moment. I inherited the Black Book, along with the original binder of Adlai I, and augmented it from my life as a Marine, Illinois Supreme Court law clerk, partner in a large law firm, State Representative, State Treasurer, U.S. Senator, two-time Democratic candidate for Illinois governor, farmer, international investment banker, and ever the hereditary global sojourner and public policy activist.

Great, great grandfather Jesse was Abraham Lincoln s political patron for whom he wrote his autobiography used by Fell to promote Lincoln for President. Thus, the Black Book spans more than a century and a half of American history. It contrasts a rich American past with the present, describing cultural and political change from on the ground and in the world we knew. Its lessons are incorporated in comments on economics, diplomacy, the press, education, religion, war (it s easy) and peace (it s hard) - and the future. In experiencing the past, much of the present was foreseen in the Black Book, including terrorism and the consequences of unsustainable levels of debt and a financialized economy the rise of China in the life cycle of nations and empires. The Black Book became a metaphor for American politics idealized and realized, beckoning others to carry on by recovering American values it records. It is rich in the humor which enlivened American politics and often reflected a healthy skepticism toward politics but never cynicism.

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