Richard Neustadt

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Richard Neustadt
Richard Neustadt.jpg
Neustadt in 2003
Richard Elliott Neustadt

(1919-06-26)June 26, 1919
DiedOctober 31, 2003(2003-10-31) (aged 84)
London, United Kingdom
OccupationPolitical scientist, adviser, and professor

Richard Elliott Neustadt (June 26, 1919 – October 31, 2003) was an American political scientist specializing in the United States presidency. He also served as adviser to several presidents. He was the author of the books Presidential Power and, with Harvey V. Fineberg, The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease.[1]

Early life[edit]

Neustadt was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Elizabeth (Neufeld) and Richard Mitchells Neustadt, who was a progressive activist and social worker.[2] His family were Jews whose ancestors were from Central Europe.[3][4] Neustadt received a BA in History from the University of California, Berkeley in 1939, followed by an M.A. degree from Harvard University in 1941.[5] After a short stint as an economist in the Office of Price Administration, he joined the US Navy in 1942, where he was a supply officer in the Aleutian Islands; Oakland, California; and Washington.[6] He then went into the Bureau of Budget (now known as the Office of Management and Budget) while he was working on his Harvard Ph.D., which he received in 1951.[5]

Political career[edit]

Richard Neustadt (right) on March 10, 1951

Neustadt was the Special Assistant of the White House Office from 1950 to 1953 under President Harry S. Truman. During the following year, he was a professor of public administration at Cornell and, from 1954 to 1964, taught government at Columbia University, where he received a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award in 1961.

It was at Columbia that Neustadt wrote the book Presidential Power[7] (1960; a revised edition titled Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership appeared in 1990),[8] in which he examined the decision-making process at the highest levels of government. He argued that the President is actually rather weak in the US government; is unable to effect significant change without the approval of the Congress; and in practice must rely on a combination of personal persuasion, professional reputation "inside the Beltway," and public prestige to get things done.

With his book appearing just before the election of John F. Kennedy, Neustadt soon found himself in demand by the President-elect, and began his advisory role with a 20-page memo suggesting things the President should and should not try to do at the beginning of his term. During the 1960s, Neustadt continued to advise Kennedy and later Lyndon B. Johnson.[8][9]

Neustadt was hired by the then-secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. to write a book analyzing the decision making that led to the swine flu vaccine debacle in the mid-1970s. Neustadt's co-author, his graduate assistant Harvey V. Fineberg, said later that the book was written as a private document for Califano, who later insisted on publishing it as The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease.[10] The book placed blame for the swine flu vaccine decision on the CDC Director David Sencer, though Sencer's recommendations were appropriate, given the information available at the time.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Neustadt was a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he taught as a popular professor for more than two decades and officially retired in 1989 but continued to teach there for years thereafter. Neustadt also served as the first director of the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP), which was founded as "a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy that engages young people in politics and public service."

His first wife, Bertha Cummings "Bert" Neustadt, died in 1984. In 1987, he married the British politician Shirley Williams, who also served on the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government as Professor of Electoral Politics.

Neustadt was also a recipient of the 1988 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, co-authored with Ernest R. May.[12]

After his retirement, he served as an advisor to Bill Clinton and as chairman of the Presidential Debates Commission.

One of Neustadt's closest students was a young Al Gore, whose interest in politics was reignited by a junior seminar taught by Neustadt in 1968 on the presidency. In the course, Gore role-played Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Gore arranged to have private tutorials with Neustadt during his senior year and met with him for two hours weekly.


Neustadt died in London after complications from a fall. In addition to Shirley Williams, Neustadt left a daughter, Elizabeth, and a granddaughter. His son, Richard, predeceased him in 1995.[13]


  • 1960: Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership (ISBN 0-02-922796-8)
  • 1970: Alliance Politics (ISBN 0-231-03066-5)
  • 1986: Thinking In Time : The Uses Of History For Decision Makers, co-authored with Ernest R. May (ISBN 0-02-922791-7)
  • 1999: Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective (ISBN 0-8014-3622-2)
  • 2000: Preparing to be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt, co-authored with Charles O. Jones, (ISBN 0-8447-4139-6)


Appearances as moderator

"The American President"

Provided commentary for the 2000 PBS film series: "The American President" produced by Kunhardt Productions. Written, produced and directed by Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt in association with Thirteen/WNET-TV New York. Based on the book: "The American President" published by Riverhead Books. The ten program series explores the presidencies from George Washington to Bill Clinton.


  1. ^ Neustadt, Richard E.; Fineberg, Harvey V. (1978). The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease. National Academies Press. PMID 25032342.
  2. ^ "Neustadt, Richard Elliott |".
  3. ^ Edwards, George C. (January 2004). "Richard E. Neustadt". PS. 37 (1): 125–127. doi:10.1017/S1049096504003889. S2CID 154291153.
  4. ^ Godfrey Hodgson (November 3, 2003). "Richard Neustadt: US political scientist and expert on the power of the presidency". The Guardian. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Biographical Profiles: Richard Neustadt". Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  6. ^ Jones, Charles O. (June 2003). "Richard E. Neustadt:Public Servant as Scholar". Annual Review of Political Science. 6 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1146/annurev.polisci.6.121901.085848.
  7. ^ "Richard Neustadt, adviser to presidents, died on October 31st, aged 84". The Economist. Associated Press. November 13, 2003. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Godfrey Hodgson (November 3, 2003). "Richard Neustadt US political scientist and expert on the power of the presidency". The Guardian. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  9. ^ THOMAS J. LUECK (November 3, 2003). "Richard E. Neustadt, Historian, Dies at 84; Studied Power and Advised Three Presidents". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  10. ^ The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease. The National Academies Press. 1978.
  11. ^ Lewis, Michael (2021). The Premonition: A Pandemic Story. W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-88155-4.[page needed]
  12. ^ "1988– Richard Neustadt". Archived from the original on September 13, 2014.
  13. ^ Hodgson, Godfrey (November 3, 2003). "Obituary: Richard Neustadt". The Guardian. London.

External links[edit]