Hughes as Historian
To the Editor:
Jason Epstein’s review of Emmet Hughes’s The Ordeal of Power [June] was astoundingly irresponsible. His preoccupation with what he terms Hughes’s “inadequacies of heart and mind” caused him to assess the political career of Emmet Hughes rather than that of the Eisenhower administration, which is, after all, what the book is about. Regardless of what one thinks of Hughes’s forays in the political arena, one is duty-bound to review the book on the basis of what it tells the reader about the Eisenhower years.
Mr. Epstein’s assertion that the book “is of no interest for what it says about Eisenhower and his administration or for what it adds to the common knowledge of recent American politics” causes this reader to suspect that Mr. Epstein and the many distinguished, informed political commentators who reviewed the book elsewhere were not reading the same volume. The Ordeal of Power contains many fascinating insights and perceptive appraisals. That these are set in the framework of Mr. Hughes’s contemporary attitude toward the Eisenhower administration . . . adds to the interest. . . . If Mr. Epstein failed to gain any deeper understanding of the past administration from this book, he is obviously wasting his time as a publisher, since he apparently knows more about politics than anyone now writing in the field.
New York City
Mr. Epstein writes:
I don’t know what the distinguished commentators read, but I’m certain that the book I read was The Ordeal of Power, a book which has as little to say about “the Eisenhower years” as Hamlet has to say about the history of Denmark. The main character in Hughes’s book is Hughes himself. Old President Polonius is wheeled in and out only to keep the plot going. I’m flattered that Mr. Guinsburg should find I know more about politics than the experts do, and after reading the other reviews of Hughes’s book, I suspect he’s right. Nevertheless, I think I’ll stay with publishing which is, after all, the more noble calling, as those who have followed Harold Macmillan’s career will agree.