Friday, November 20, 2009

Caspar Weinberger's books

As some may recall, Caspar Weinberger (1917-2006) presided over the Reagan administration's military build-up as Reagan's Secretary of Defense from January 1981 until November 1987. (Weinberger began his political career in California and then served as Nixon's director of OMB and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.) Weinberger was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra affair on the eve of the November 1992 presidential election, but just before leaving office Pres. George H.W. Bush pardoned Weinberger before he could stand trial (Bush also pardoned five other former Reagan administration officials at the same time). In denouncing the pardons, the independent counsel (i.e. investigating prosecutor) Lawrence Walsh sharply criticized Weinberger for having withheld his contemporaneous notes on Iran-Contra, which, according to Walsh, contained evidence of a conspiracy by "the highest-ranking" Reagan administration officials to lie to Congress and the public.

Why rake this up now? Not long ago I happened to be in a used bookstore which was selling part of Weinberger's library.
From conversation with a store employee, I learned that the more "valuable" (and possibly more interesting) part of the library, mainly books with Weinberger's signature, was in another branch of the store. A number of the books I saw here were review copies that publishers had sent to Weinberger; some of these dealt with international politics (e.g., Hugh Thomas's 1966 book on the Suez crisis). Other books clearly had been acquired by Weinberger himself, either during his student days or after. These included some on British history, especially biographies of politicians and statesmen; memoirs of American public officials (e.g., Dean Acheson's Present at the Creation, Henry Stimson's On Active Service in Peace and War [written with McGeorge Bundy]); and some books on U.S. politics (I particularly remember an anti-New Deal polemic published in 1937 warning against "the collectivist state"). There was also a complete set of Churchill's The Second World War. And there were one or two items reflecting Weinberger's Harvard connections (he was an alumnus of both the college and the law school), e.g., William Bentinck-Smith (ed.), The Harvard Book. In short, this part of the collection was not all that revealing; perhaps the part in the other branch of the store would have been more so. Or perhaps not.

All these books, virtually all of which were hardcovers, had the same price ($15). As I was leaving I asked the employee about this pricing policy; he replied that they didn't have time to "psychoanalyze each book."


hwh said...

I remember the disgraceful little smile with which Weinberger asked the anti-war people how they would like it if the jobs in their states caused by the "needs" of war were to be cut off.

hank_F_M said...


Did you buy any that looked interesting?

LFC said...

hwh: yes; I wasn't a fan of his either.

Hank: I was tempted by a couple of things (there was a narrative history of world politics 1945-1965, for example), but for budgetary and space reasons I keep my purchases of hardcovers, even fairly inexpensive ones (and here the price was $15 minus a discount), under a fairly tight rein. I did walk out of the store with one item: a paperback (Vintage UK) copy of Linda Colley's Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 -- but that was not from the Weinberger collection.