Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation but Missed the History Books

By Mark Carnes | Go to book overview

Walter Lippmann
[23 SEPTEMBER 1889–14 DECEMBER 1974]

My choice of an American, the memory of whose greatness is fading, is Walter Lippmann. He is called a journalist but there is no recognized profession for what he really was: Thinker. His book A Preface to Morals, published in 1929, is better than the Bible and easier to understand.

ANDY ROONEY

Walter Lippmann, journalist and author, was born in New York City, the son of Jacob Lippmann, an investor, and Daisy Baum. Born into a family of wealth and leisure, Lippmann traveled yearly to Europe with his art-loving parents, attended private schools in New York City, and entered Harvard in the illustrious class of 1910. Among his classmates were Heywood Broun, T. S. Eliot, and John Reed, who hailed him, to no one's surprise, as a future president of the United States. An idealistic young man, Lippmann worked with the poor of Boston, founded the student Socialist Club, and wrote for college journals pledged to social reform.

At Harvard the brilliant student made a strong impression on three men who influenced him greatly: the philosophers William James and George Santayana, and the British socialist Graham Wallas. From James, Lippmann learned to value experimentation, pluralism, and action; from Santayana, the opposite virtues of detachment, measure, and restraint; and from Wallas, a respect for an unpredictable human nature over the rigidities of political theories and institutions.

Chosen by Santayana as his assistant and expected one day to follow in his footsteps, Lippmann instead left Harvard in May 1910, just a few weeks before receiving his master's degree

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