Columbia was filled with Giants. That was a day of giants,
and that day has passed.
JAMES BANNER, JR., 2002
Any attempt to assess Richard Hofstadter's contribution to American historical writing must contend with the sad fact that he died at the relatively young age of 54. As the author of several important books, Hofstadter compiled a distinguished bibliography that suggested a long lifework of scholarship; his legacy, however, rests largely on the accomplishments of a young man. Accolades aside, a mere twenty-seven years separated the appearance of Social Darwinism (1944) and the posthumous printing of America at 1750 (1971). By comparison, a generationsspanning sixty-one years bookends Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Orestes A. Brownson (1939) and the autobiographical A Life in the 20th Century (2000). Hofstadter did not live to write his memoirs, appear on cable television, or provide authoritative sound bites to the flourishing “public intellectual” trade. Healthy until his early thirties, he suffered a back ailment in 1947 that foreshadowed a series of orthopedic discomforts, compounded by bursitis, knee problems, a weak digestive system, and finally the leukemia that took his life.
The psychological toll exacted from these and other physical setbacks was considerable, and the dark moods that shadowed Hofstadter's achievements were rooted in a chain of cruel and life-altering concessions to loss. H. Stuart Hughes suggested that the early deaths of his mother and first wife forced the meaning of mortality before Hofstadter, sharpening his sensitivity to the schedule and fate of his work. “Hence his need for a supporting cast of loyal friends, his pessimism, his ideological caution, his insistence on protecting his working time and