The Library lost a dear friend and favorite researcher last week. Joseph Persico, best-selling author, historian and speechwriter for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller died at the age of 84. Persico wrote 12 books, including biographies of Rockefeller, Edward R. Murrow, CIA director William Casey and Franklin Roosevelt. He was selected to write the words etched in granite at the National World War II Memorial: “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
Of Persico’s writing career, Eric Sevaried described his Edward R. Murrow: An American Original as “the definitive” biography of the broadcast pioneer. The New York Times said of Persico’s The Imperial Rockefeller, “No one has written a book like this about Nelson Rockefeller before.” His Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial was described by the broadcast journalist, Howard K. Smith, as “Simply the best account of the trial.” This book was adapted by Turner Network Television as a miniseries that won two Emmy awards. Persico was the collaborator on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey which remained twenty weeks on the New York Times best seller list.
His Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage also reached the best seller list and was chosen as one of the notable books of the year. His, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour, on Armistice Day, World War I, has been described by historian, Richard Norton Smith as, “The single finest work I have read on the Great War.” The Washington Post’s Book World said of his Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, “Persico… understands that Lucy Mercer helped FDR awaken his capacity for love and compassion, and thus helped him become the man to whom the nation will be eternally in debt.” “Roosevelt’s Centurions,” a detailed history of his World War II commanders — a 650-page volume published last year, was his final published book and his most ambitious.
His articles have been published in American Heritage Magazine and the Military History Quarterly. He was a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World and was a commentator on several PBS and History Channel documentaries.
Joe Persico was a wonderful scholar and a true gentleman. He was generous with his time and his expertise, appearing at five of our annual Roosevelt Reading Festivals. His program here at the Library in December 2001 on the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor–coming just weeks after the 9/11 attacks–was one of the most memorable and meaningful events in the Library’s long history.
He will be greatly missed by his friends in Hyde Park.