The Book That Changed My Life

Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow received The National Book Award in Nonfiction in 1990 for The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and The Rise of Modern Finance.

When I try to reconstruct my writing life, I realize that the work that often hovers at the margins of my consciousness, always teasing me as a model to be emulated, is the distinguished New Deal trilogy by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. I found The Age of Roosevelt irresistibly appealing because of the way its epic narrative alternates scenes of cinematic clarity and high drama with sweeping expositions of the doctrines that informed the Rooseveltian programs. The trilogy wears its scholarship with such light, graceful elegance. Many other fine books might have served the purpose, but I happened to read Schlesinger's work at a susceptible age and it demolished for me forever the invidious distinction between "popular history" -- presumably fun, but fluffy and superficial -- with authoritative, academic history. Like all superb history, The Age of Roosevelt transcends pedestrian categories. Schlesinger shows how ideas can germinate over decades and then coalesce in inspired policy decisions or moments of exquisite human drama. His blend of rigorous scholarship and readable prose, of detailed analysis and abundant anecdotes, the profound mingling with the charmingly prosaic -- well, I guess that's what I have aspired to achieve in my own historical tomes.


Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow (left) poses for a picture with fellow National Book Award recipient Charles Johnson at the 1990 National Book Award Ceremony.