Thomas is himself a scion of the American establishment. Educated at Andover, Harvard, and the University of Virginia Law School, he is the grandson of Norman Thomas, that most patrician of socialists, who had the good sense to marry the heiress of a New York banking fortune before embarking on six runs for president, winning few votes but much respect in the process. His father, Evan Thomas II, was an editor in the posher precincts of publishing, who during his stint at what was then Harper & Brothers came up with the title for John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage.
There is a pleasing and revealing symmetry to Thomas’s own personal narrative. As an undergraduate journalist at the Harvard Crimson in 1971, he published a tough-minded but lighthearted piece— a neat trick to pull off for still a pup of a writer — about the college’s final clubs.
Headlined “The Clubs: Pale, But Still Breathing,” Thomas’s piece was more of a wry exploration than an angry exposé. (To find it, google “porcellian.”) This was three years before Richard Nixon resigned his presidency and four years before the fall of Saigon. The promise of revolution seemed very real — at least in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And the sort of social exclusivity the clubs historically represented seemed to be destined for the dustbin of history.
Flash forward to today: 39 years later, the clubs that Thomas wrote about — or most of them — still exist and thrive. As a kid journalist, he sensed a story about the brevet ranks of power and influence. With one foot (his family’s heritage) inside the story and the other (his sense of himself as an outsider, a journalist, and a storyteller) outside of it, he struck a stance he continues to hold today.
Peter Kadzis can be reached at email@example.com.
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