Interested in reading a book chock full of political wit and wisdom that took 150 years to write? The Black Book consists of anecdotes, stories, maxims, and humor collected by five generations of one prominent political family finally compiled by the most recent in the line, former United States Senator Adlai Stevenson III.

From a loose-leaf binder started by Adlai Stevenson I, vice president of the United States in the second Grover Cleveland administration, through the time of Adlai II, governor of Illinois and two-time Democratic nominee for president, to Adlai III, senator from Illinois, the family has been amassing information to help guide their political outlook and prepare for important speeches. The Stevenson family tree precedes Vice-President Stevenson with Adlai III’s great, great grandfather Jesse, a patron of Abraham Lincoln.

In a recent conversation with Stevenson, I asked him what members of his family would think of politics today.

“I’m glad they’re not here,” he said. “The senate I entered in 1970 bears no resemblance of the senate of today. I don’t remember any partisanship let alone incivility. Reason still reigned. My great grandfather proposed the Lincoln-Douglas debates; he was Lincoln’s sponsor. Those debates were three hours each, essentially focused on one subject. What’s become of our debates? What’s become of the democratic dialogue?”

Stevenson was disappointed in the primary election defeat this week of Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana. “He’s of the old school. Rational. He was part of the broad center. We were never divided along partisan lines. Dick Lugar is a survivor of the politics that created this country. He is now a victim of the politics that is undermining it.”

Stevenson said he put the old collection of slips of paper, napkins and other items on which notes were taken still stuffed into the original binder into book form — and named the book after the black binder that contained all the information — because he hopes the values and items captured by his family over the years would lend a positive tone to political discussions.

“My father, twice a presidential candidate, before that governor, explained democracy was not a formula for winning elections it was a system for informing the people so that they can make an informed decision. Trust the people with the truth.”

Stevenson said his father, Adlai II, in the presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956, gave half-hour “substantive and eloquent speeches,” which laid the foundation for John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. Of his father’s two defeats at the hands of Dwight Eisenhower, Stevenson said, “His objective was not just winning but serving. And he could serve by losing” (by spreading his message.) Stevenson gave Eisenhower credit for conducting a civil campaign.

Stevenson argued that media and the Internet have disrupted politics. “I’ve been in campaign headquarters recently in a large room lined by staff with laptops all responding to attacks from anonymous sources in the blogosphere. And, of course they were responding in kind. In the mean time, the main stream media has not improved.”

Stevenson had a few recommendations for improving politics today. While some are issues that have been raised many times before such as reducing the money in politics with partial public financing of campaigns, he offered a rather unique recommendation of shortening the election season. “It’s May and it feels like we’ve been campaigning for president for a year or so. Require states to hold primaries only on one of three days in June, which will force candidates to focus on national issues instead of having candidates running from state to state with their hands out.”

Stevenson’s Black Book is centered on politics but includes items on topics such as law and justice, economics, finance and war and peace. The book ends with a discussion of the life cycles of empires and nations and with the rise of China where Stevenson has been active since 1975.

And, there’s humor in the book.

Stevenson said his grandfather distinguished between wit and humor. Humor has a melancholy side, wit sparkles, his grandfather said. But humor can be a very effective way of making a point.  Also, humor can denigrate an opponent without being mean-spirited.

Stevenson includes humorous bits in the book at his own expense. He told me of the late Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko describing Stevenson’s own speeches: “They made the blood run tepid.”  Stevenson said Royko described his speaking style as, “I had all the oratorical fire of an algebra teacher.”

It’s in the Black Book. You can look it up. You can visit Senator Stevenson’s website and acquire the book here.