THE NAT HENTOFF READER

Nat Hentoff, Author
Nat Hentoff, Author . Da Capo $16.50 (322p) ISBN 978-0-306-81084-8
Reviewed on: 10/29/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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It becomes clear from this collection of his writings over the past 25 years that Hentoff—iconoclast, muckraker and critic par excellence—has been remarkably consistent in his beliefs. And these beliefs come down to an absolute insistence that human freedom and the right of individual expression are sacrosanct, and that any challenge to them—whether from the left or right—is to be resisted. Many of the pieces here thus focus on First Amendment issues—from the banning of books and the censoring of student newspapers in high schools, to community attacks on a grade school teacher as being a Satanist for reading her students fairy tales. He also lashes out at college campuses where demands for political correctness and racial sensitivity have led to the banning of controversial speakers and the pillorying of dedicated professors for innocent remarks interpreted as racist. But he also confronts America's continuing struggle with race, with pieces on persistent school segregation, the neglect of black crime victims by the mainstream press, and black anti-Semitism. His most loving pieces, however, are portraits of musicians—Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, even Merle Haggard. Risk takers all, such artists personify what unbridled voices can create. As the World Trade Center lies in ruins, Hentoff offers an uncannily timely reminder of the care that must be taken in the protection of rights. He also offers comfort. This from Haggard: "When it looks like everything else is breaking up in the country and in the world, and in your own life, I keep thinking that maybe music will be the last thing to go down." (Nov. 2)

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