Russell Baker is a former columnist and correspondent for The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun. His books include The Good Times, Growing Up, and Looking Back.
 (November 2016)


On the Election—I

What is to be done about the Republican Party? Sixty years ago it was the party of Dwight Eisenhower and a dynamic suburban middle class putting an end at last to the long reign of the New Deal Democrats. This summer it became the pathetic captive of Donald Trump, a television performer professing to speak for a discontented and sullen middle class.

The Heights of Charm

Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at Yalta, February 1945

His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt

by Joseph Lelyveld
Needing to remove Vice President Henry Wallace from the Democrats’ 1944 election ticket, President Roosevelt sent him on one of those foreign junkets contrived to refresh sagging egos in the warming balm of publicity. This one took Wallace to China, Mongolia, and Siberia. At his departure, the president said, “I think you ought to see a lot of Siberia.”

A Very Wretched Relationship

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, New York City, 1957

Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage

by Jeffrey Frank
As a greenhorn in the White House press corps in 1954, one of the first rules I learned was not to speak truth to strangers about the president’s smile. That smile, so warm, so irresistibly friendly, was part of the genial image that made Dwight Eisenhower a figure admired, in …


A deer seen through a kitchen window; photograph by Rebecca Norris Webb from her new book My Dakota, an elegy to her brother and her home state of South Dakota. It is published by Radius Books.

Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds

by Jim Sterba
Glancing out the kitchen window one sunny afternoon not long ago, I was startled to see two beautiful red foxes copulating in the garden. It was not the unabashed sexual display that was remarkable. Mating must be routine exercise out there, judging by the frequency with which brand-new rabbits can be seen eating the lawn, but foxes are another matter. This is an in-town garden at a well-trafficked intersection two blocks from the county courthouse, definitely not a fox-friendly location. A single fox doing nothing at all on this turf would be a newsworthy sight; two foxes engaged in propagating the species would seem to border on the unthinkable.

The Master of Hate

J. Edgar Hoover with President Nixon at an FBI Academy graduation ceremony held at the White House, May 1969. Hoover named Nixon an honorary member of the FBI.

Enemies: A History of the FBI

by Tim Weiner
Fear of the evil foreigner seems to be an ever-present poison in American politics, and it was running higher than usual in 1917 when young J. Edgar Hoover took his first job at the Justice Department. It is a fear that flourishes most dangerously when whooped up by politicians too …

Smiley Wins Again

Alec Guinness as George Smiley in the BBC miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1979

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

a film directed by Tomas Alfredson
Early in the cold war Soviet intelligence had an agent named Kim Philby embedded in the hierarchy of the British secret services. Philby was an Englishman of good pedigree (an important asset in London espionage circles) but troublesome habits (hard drinker, a bit too charming with women, including other men’s …


Secrets of the Keeper of Secrets

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood is now eighty-one, a mellow age that tends to breed a gentle tolerance, if not sardonic forgiveness, for life’s brutes and rogues. This may explain the curious lack of menace in the J. Edgar Hoover he conjures up in J. Edgar, his low-voltage cinematic speculation on the character of America’s most famous cop. J. Edgar Hoover without menace is like Boris Karloff without bolts in his head. Not an old softie, to be sure, but Eastwood’s Hoover—though a sly, neurotic, and occasionally vicious bureaucrat—is scarcely a patch on the real-life Hoover who, as creator and director of the FBI. from 1935 to 1972, once lurked in the nightmares of almost everyone with an interest in government and many more who simply went through life feeling guilty.