An Illuminating Biography Of An American Intellectual By the time he died in 1993 at the age of 73, Irving Howe was one of the twentieth century's most important public thinkers. Deeply passionate, committed to social reform and secular Jewishness, ardently devoted to fiction and poetry, in love with baseball, music, and ballet, Howe wrote with such eloquence and lived with such conviction that his extraordinary work is now part of the canon of American social thought. In the first comprehensive biography of Howe's life, historian Gerald Sorin brings us close to this man who rose from Jewish immigrant poverty in the 1930s to become one of the most provocative intellectuals of our time. Known most widely for his award-winning book World of Our Fathers, a rich portrayal of the East European Jewish experience in New York, Howe also won acclaim for his prodigious output of illuminating essays on American culture and as an indefatigable promoter of democratic socialism as can be seen in the pages of Dissent, the,journal he edited for nearly forty years.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Irving Howe's 1976 The World of Our Fathers-a bestselling masterpiece of cultural history, as well as an "implicitly autobiographical" work-has become a classic of Jewish-American history and secured Howe a prominent place in American letters, even while many of his other major works-a 1951 literary study Sherwood Anderson, or his 1957 Politics and the Novel-now go unread. Howe's life and career are emblematic of many Jewish intellectuals of his time. He was born in 1920 and raised in the crushing poverty of the Depression; both of his parents worked long days for low wages in the garment industry. Howe's family instilled in him an intellectual life and the "quest for absolute perfection." Howe early joined the Young People's Socialist League, and his involvement with the heady intellectual political atmosphere at City College of New York prepared him for his later published work in Commentary and Partisan Review in the 1940s, his founding of Dissent in the 1950s and his influential career as a critic and political commentator. Sorin is primarily interested in Howe's intellectual and political life. And while he does include some words critical of Howe-such as a critique of Howe's famous attack on Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, in which his subject called the author a "female impersonator"-Sorin's tone is overwhelmingly adulatory, even fawning. While Sorin did interview nearly 50 informants, much of the material comes from Howe's autobiographical writings. This is an important first step in re-examining a major intellectual and should serve as a springboard for more in-depth and balanced evaluations. Photos. (Jan. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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New York University Press
January 01, 2003
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