Sol M. Linowitz’s autobiography tells once again the classic story of the successful American. Son of a middle-class Jewish wholesale fruit dealer from New Jersey who was impoverished by the Great Depression, Linowitz attended Hamilton College on a partial scholarship, financing the rest of his education by waiting on tables, working in the college library, and selling Christmas cards. He graduated as class salutatorian and received a scholarship to the Cornell University Law School. While studying law, he continued to wait on tables, played violin in an orchestra, and held a job funded by the National Youth Administration. He also was editor-in-chief of the Cornell Law Quarterly and in 1938 graduated first in his class. He then joined a small but prominent Rochester law firm. During World War II, Linowitz worked for the Office of Price Administration and served in the Navy. In 1945, he returned to Rochester to practice law, became involved in Rochester civic activities, and formed a close friendship with Joe Wilson, a prominent Rochester businessman and scion of one of the city’s first families. This relationship with Wilson was to bring Linowitz fame, fortune, and power.
Wilson was president of Haloid Corporation, a manufacturer of photographic papers and machines which operated in the shadow of Rochester’s major firm, the Eastman Kodak Company. When Wilson hired Linowitz, the Haloid Corporation was feverishly attempting to develop a new copier based on the scientific work of Chester Carlson, a then-unknown inventor. Haloid, of course, soon became the Xerox Corporation, while Carlson’s copier eventually became the Xerox 914, one of the most socially significant and profitable inventions in American history.
Initially Linowitz handled Haloid’s licensing and patent development legal work. In 1959 he became chairman of the company’s executive committee, with responsibility for government relations, acquisitions, and international ventures. In 1961, when Haloid became Xerox, Linowitz was named chairman of the board and later became chairman of Xerox International. Hoping to develop a Latin American market, he traveled to South America in 1965 to recruit potential partners and to meet government officials. Fascinated with the continent’s vitality and enterprise and troubled by the region’s problems, Linowitz accepted an appointment by Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to be both ambassador to the Organization of American States and the American representative to the Inter-American Committee of the Alliance for Progress, A decade later Jimmy Carter selected him to negotiate new arrangements with Panama regarding the Canal. The two chapters devoted to the Panama Canal treaties are by far the most valuable ones in Linowitz’s memoir. Linowitz’s final government service was as Personal Representative of the President for the Middle East Peace Negotiations in 1979-80, when he unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate an agreement between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin on the question of Palestinian political autonomy.
The Making of a Public Man is remarkably reticent, though, regarding the inner workings of the Xerox Corporation, the making of American foreign policy, and Linowitz’s own private life. (As an aside, he does mention that he had the good sense to reject the presidencies of three unnamed universities.) In part, this reticence is intentional. Linowitz does not believe in kiss-and-tell memoirs. It “would impinge upon the necessary trust between attorney and client,” he argues, “if I were to describe in the context of personal memoirs the work I have done as a lawyer for particular clients.” What we have instead is the public life of a liberal businessman and part-time ambassador.
Linowitz believes in all the liberal pieties, including the Alliance for Progress, the United Nations, the Great Society, Saul AUnsky, and the National Urban Coalition. But he concludes his book on a pessimistic note, “The last few years have not been encouraging for people of my views. . . . In the perspective of history, today’s disillusionments may well appear as a necessary corrective to the naive hopes and overblown plans of our old optimism.” An examination of these “naive hopes and overblown plans” would have added spice to these rather thin and disappointing reminiscences by a man who was present at some of the most important and exciting economic and diplomatic events of the past 30 years.
[The Making of a Public Man: A Memoir, by Sol M. Linowitz (Boston: Little, Brown) $19.95]