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Remembering A.J. "Jack" Langguth

Celeste Alvarez |
September 4, 2014 | 3:45 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Former foreign correspondent, historian and longtime USC professor emeritus Arthur John “Jack” Langguth left a lasting legacy. Langguth died on Sept. 1 at the age of 81 in his Hollywood home after suffering from respiratory failure, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Friends of Langguth said he loved teaching. (USC News image)
Friends of Langguth said he loved teaching. (USC News image)
Here is a look at some of the highlights of Langguth's incredible career, which spanned more than five decades.


Langguth's career in journalism first began in 1959 as a Washington, D.C. correspondent for Cowles Publications, and he soon moved to covering the 1960 presidential election for Look Magazine, according to the New York Times. He later worked at the Valley Times Today in San Fernando Valley as a political correspondent.

“When we first met in September 1962 at the Valley Times Today, we used to spend hours on the phone talking, debating, arguing about everything from politics to personal matters,” said close friend and USC professor Joe Saltzman in his remembrance of Langguth.

After working alongside Saltzman, Langguth was hired to work as reporter for the New York Times in the mid-1960’s. He landed a rare interview with the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald soon after Oswald's arrest in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In the years that followed, Langguth was dispatched to Vietnam as its Saigon bureau chief. He went on to cover the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970, the L.A. Times’ obituary noted.

Langguth also covered civil rights demonstrations in North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi in the the early 1960’s and wrote special assignments for the New York Times Magazine.


By 1976, Langguth brought his years of experience as a talented journalist to the halls of USC with a little convincing from his friend Saltzman.

“I asked him if he would be interested in teaching at USC — believing that would be the last thing he would ever do,” Saltzman said in a Annenberg memoriam “He said he would, and in my excitement, I promptly spilled my drink all over him.”

Langguth didn’t care much about university life but loved teaching, and his students cherished him, Saltzman added. Langguth was a professor for 27 years and was voted outstanding teacher three times before his retirement in 2003.

Among the many individuals Langguth touched with his loyal friendship and kindness, several have been affected by his passing recent death.

In recalling his loyal friend of 50 years, Saltzman wrote, “He was my biggest fan, my biggest critic, my greatest friend and I will miss him more than I can say.”

Longtime friend and Los Angeles Times editor Sue Horton also shared fond memories with Langguth.

“Underneath that Harvard/New York Times starchiness, he was raucously funny,” Horton said. “Even his failing health provided fodder for his humor.”

Horton recalled an email she sent to him near the end of his life that simply said: “Pain today?” He responded, “If your question is an offer, no thanks.” A few days before his death, he had sent her an email that read: “Life is good. And, best of all, not interminable.”

USC Professor Marc Cooper also expressed his thoughts about his friend’s recent death on Facebook.

“I owe my current position at USC to [A.J. Langguth] as he recommended me to be hired as an adjunct back in 2001 and from there I morphed into full time faculty,” Cooper said. “Jack was a magnificent reporter and an even better historian… I can't say much more except that I loved him very much.”

Other friends have also spoken out on social media about the joy Langguth brought to their lives.


During his time at USC, Langguth went beyond the classroom halls to help mentor several students who aspired to follow in his footsteps and leave their own mark in journalism. Saltzman remembered how Langguth advised dozens of students by “looking over their work, making razor-sharp suggestions for improvement, helping them get a publisher or an agent.”

Through that guidance several students went on to fulfill promising careers in journalism.

War Historian

Inspired by his time as a foreign correspondent and his passion for history, Langguth wrote several books about conflicts in Latin America, the American Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Civil War and the fall of the Roman Republic. Having lived through the Vietnam War as a foreign correspondent reporting on the front lines, Langguth was able to bring a different approach to his work as a historian and journalist.

Langguth told the L.A. Times he wrote about the Vietnam War in particular because of his students' ignorance of a war that was before their time. “One of the reasons I wrote the book was the hope that if you just laid out the story in a nonpartisan way, they would ... understand what was going on at a time when their fathers and uncles were pretty divided over the issue," he told the L.A. Times in 2001.


Apart from his numerous nonfiction books about historical conflicts, Langguth also wrote three novels and a biography of Hector Hugh Munro, a British playwright and short story writer. His latest book,"After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace," will be released September 16 by Simon & Schuster.

In reviewing the book, Pulitzer Prize winner and author Diane McWhorter said, “This history lesson is a stirring narrative, a pleasure throughout, leaving the reader nourished and enlightened.”

Sue Horton also praised Langguth’s latest book saying, “His approach to history was very much a journalist’s approach… he didn’t go into things with a preconceived notion of what he would find, and he was intensely interested in how the personalities of the people involved shaped events.”

For a complete list of A.J. “Jack” Langguth’s books, click here.

Fellowships and Awards

According to Langguth's biography page, he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1976-77. He also received a Shaw Travelling Fellowship in 1955-56 from Harvard College for his year of travel in Europe. Later in 2001 he was honored with the The Freedom Forum Award by the AEJMC for his work as a journalism professor.

Reach Staff Reporter Celeste Alvarez here or follow her on Twitter.



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