Alistair Cooke

Franklin Library Alistair Cooke books

The Patient has the Floor - signed first edition - 1986


Alistair Cooke biography

Alistair Cooke, born Alfred Alistair Cooke on November 20, 1908, in Salford, Lancashire, England, was a distinguished British-American journalist, broadcaster, and author. His career spanned several decades, and he is best remembered for his long-running radio program, Letter from America, and his insightful commentary on American culture and politics. Cooke's early life was marked by academic achievements. He attended Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied English and earned a degree in 1930. Soon after, he embarked on a career in journalism, initially working for the BBC in London. In 1937, he moved to the United States, a decision that would shape the course of his life and career.

Upon arriving in America, Cooke quickly established himself as a keen observer of American life and culture. He contributed articles to various publications, showcasing his astute insights into the complexities of American society. In 1946, he began his iconic radio series, Letter from America, which continued for 58 years until his retirement in 2004. This weekly broadcast allowed him to share his observations on American politics, culture, and everyday life with a global audience. Alistair Cooke's distinctive voice and eloquent prose made him a beloved figure on both sides of the Atlantic. His ability to distill complex issues into accessible narratives contributed to the enduring success of Letter from America. Beyond broadcasting, Cooke also wrote extensively. One of his notable works is the book America: A Personal History of the United States, which synthesized his reflections on the country he had come to know so intimately.

Cooke's contributions to journalism and broadcasting were widely recognized. He received numerous awards, including several Emmys for his television work. In 1973, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, acknowledging his significant impact on Anglo-American relations. Alistair Cooke continued to be active in his later years, maintaining his intellectual curiosity and engaging in various projects. He passed away on March 30, 2004, at the age of 95. His legacy endures not only through his written and broadcasted works but also as a testament to the power of thoughtful and insightful commentary on the human experience.


The Patient has the Floor

In his Letter from America reports for the BBC and as the host of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, Alistair Cooke addressed millions of people all over the world every week. The fourteen essays collected here, each of which was first delivered as a speech, showcase the wit, charm, and eloquence of Cooke's voice in more intimate, but no less intimidating, settings.

In exclusive forums as varied as the Mayo Clinic and a conference of British and American scholars investigating the "state of the language," Cooke eagerly challenges expert opinions and delightfully skewers the pretensions of the powerful. Addressing the House of Representatives on the bicentennial of the Continental Congress, he warns against the dangers of sentimentalizing history and wryly notes that "practically every man who signed the Declaration of Independence is at this moment being measured for a halo or, at worst a T-shirt." At the Royal College of Surgeons in London, he compares his listeners to armed robbers and to the disreputable half of that infamous duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. "If I could be benevolent dictator of the United States for a year," he informs the National Trust for Historic Preservation, "I should provide several million jobs for the wrecking industry."

No one played the devil's advocate with as much grace and good humor as did Alistair Cooke. The Patient Has the Floor is an eminently quotable testament to his extraordinary talents as a journalist, scholar, and public speaker.


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