Presidential historian discusses new book on Nelson Rockefeller in Hyde Park

Presidential historian

nelson rockefeller @

Nelson Rockefeller

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will host a free book talk and signing with presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, author of On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 18 in the Henry A. Wallace Center in Hyde Park. Fourteen years in the making, On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller is a biography of the original Rockefeller Republican, drawing on thousands of newly available documents and more than 200 interviews, including Rockefeller’s own unpublished reminiscences.

Grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Nelson coveted the White House from childhood. “When you think of what I had,” he once remarked, “what else was there to aspire to?” Before he was 30, he had helped his father develop Rockefeller Center and his mother establish the Museum of Modern Art. At 32, he was Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime coordinator for Latin America. As New York’s four-term governor, he set national standards in education, the environment and urban policy. The charismatic face of liberal Republicanism, Rockefeller championed civil rights and health insurance for all.

Three times he sought the presidency – arguably in the wrong party. At the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in 1964, locked in an epic battle with Barry Goldwater, Rockefeller denounced extremist elements in the GOP: a moment that changed the party forever. But he could not wrest the nomination from the Arizona conservative, or from Richard Nixon four years later. In the end, he had to settle for two dispiriting years as vice president under Gerald Ford.

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In On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller, Smith recreates Rockefeller’s improbable rise to the governor’s mansion, his politically disastrous divorce and remarriage and his often-surprising relationships with presidents and political leaders from FDR to Henry Kissinger. A frustrated architect turned master builder, an avid collector of art and an unabashed ladies’ man, “Rocky” promoted fallout shelters and affordable housing with equal enthusiasm. From the deadly 1971 prison uprising at Attica and unceasing battles with New York City mayor John Lindsay to his son’s unsolved disappearance (and the grisly theories that it spawned), the punitive drug laws that bear his name and the much-gossiped-about circumstances of his death, Nelson Rockefeller lived an eventful life.

“This is one of the greatest cradle-to-grave biographies written in the past 50 years. It’s never dull and always joyfully lucid. Highly recommended,” says presidential historian and FDR Library trustee Douglas Brinkley. Copies of Smith’s book will be available for sale after the talk. For more information, contact Cliff Laube at (845) 486-7745 or e-mail clifford.laube@nara.gov.

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