The Magazine

Dr. Butler Remembered

The very model of a modern college president.

Jan 30, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 19 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
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The author raises an interesting question: "The formidable 'Dr. Butler' of the first half of the twentieth century, the man described by the New York Times at his death as 'one of the best known Americans of his generation the world over,' earned instant oblivion in the second half." And it isn't hard to understand why he became a "splendid anachronism," to use the author's epithet. Butler left nothing behind other than oracular pronouncements that dated the moment they were uttered. (They are collected in a volume titled Looking Forward: What Will the American People Do About It? Essays and Addresses on Matters National and International.) In 1930, for example, he deplored the state of world affairs--"midgets in the seats of the mighty"--but it became apparent in a few years that Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini were hardly midgets.

Final verdict: If you were a Columbia student during the Butler incumbency, you'll be much interested in this biography. If you weren't, ask yourself how many of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets you have read.

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.