(born May 20, 1890, Camp Point, Ill., U.S.—died March 5, 1971, Menlo Park, Calif.) U.S. historian. He worked nearly 20 years as a journalist before joining the faculty at Columbia University (1928–58). His best-known works include biographies of U.S. political and industrial figures, including Grover Cleveland (1932, Pulitzer Prize) and Hamilton Fish (1936, Pulitzer Prize), and his eight-volume history of the American Civil War, comprising Ordeal of the Union (1947), The Emergence of Lincoln (1950), and The War for Union (1959–71). In 1948 he inaugurated at Columbia the first oral history program in the U.S.
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Nevins earned an M.A. in English in 1913 from the University of Illinois. He worked as a journalist in New York City and began writing books on history. Nevins was appointed Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University in 1931, two years after he joined the faculty there. He was later appointed Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University from 1940 to 1941 and again from 1964 to 1965. In 1948 he created the first oral history program to operate on an institutionalized basis in the U.S. which continues as Columbia University's Oral History Research Office.
Nevins wrote more than 50 books, mainly political and business history and biography of the 19th century, in addition to his many newspaper and academic articles. The subjects of his biographies include Grover Cleveland, Abram Hewitt, Hamilton Fish, Henry Ford, John C. Frémont, Herbert Lehman, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry White. The biographies provide in-depth coverage of United States political, economic and diplomatic history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In most cases (Fish, Cleveland, Ford) they remain unequalled.
Nevins' greatest work was Ordeal of the Union (1947-71), an 8-volume comprehensive history of the coming of the Civil war, and the war itself. It remains the most detailed political, economic and military narrative of the era.
Nevins' biography of Grover Cleveland won the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. He also added significantly to the scholarship on President Cleveland by publishing a volume of Cleveland's correspondence from 1850-1908.
His biographer explains the Nevins style:
Nevins used narrative not only to tell a story but to propound moral lessons. It was not his inclination to deal in intellectual concepts or theories, like many academic scholars. He preferred emphasizing practical notions about the importance of national unity, principled leadership, liberal politics, enlightened journalism, the social responsibility of business and industry, and scientific and technical progress that added to the cultural improvement of humanity.
Nevins wrote several books on John D. and the Rockefeller family, said business journalist Ferdinand Lundberg:
Nevins wrote the foreword to the inaugural edition of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy.