I see little point in denying that, for all its limitations, con-
sensus as a general view of American history had certain dis-
tinct, if transitional merits.
RICHARD HOFSTADTER, 1968
Parts of each day, typically the morning and quiet hours of late evening, found Richard Hofstadter working methodically at a cluttered desk in his Claremont Avenue study. This creative routine served for many years to nurture a pattern of reflection and writing that broke productively from the constrictions of a traditional academic schedule. So ingrained, it followed him from a winter study to a summer surf. “He was not an easy man to vacation with,” C. Vann Woodward remembered. “The beaches tended to be strewn with bibliographical disputation, and languorous tropical mornings tended to be disturbed by the clatter of a typewriter. He gave us all an inferiority complex—which we felt we thoroughly deserved.”1 Mental labor calmed Hofstadter, medicated his powerful mind, and pushed him to a remarkable level of achievement. Publication was a life-affrming exercise. As his bibliography grew, so did the impression of close observers that he anticipated the illness that eventually silenced his pen. With much to say and much to lose, he discovered in the everyday act of writing history a pleasant and blind faith.
Hofstadter's professional success was never as spontaneous or smooth as the trappings of academic stardom—appreciative reviews, sparkling dust-jacket blurbs, impressive royalties—suggested. Like any imaginative and agile thinker, he worked on several projects that never came to fruition. Among them included a biography of Thorstein Veblen, a history of American thought in the 1890s, and a study of Newton, Darwin, and Freud. He and Woodward agreed in 1961 to serve as coeditors of the Oxford History of the United States; the first volume of that se-