Speaking Freely: A Memoir

Nat Hentoff, Author
Nat Hentoff, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-679-43647-8
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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Continuing from Boston Boy, this is less the classic memoir of introspection and revelation than a reporter's notebook fleshed out for posterity. Fortunately, Hentoff's passions--jazz, civil liberties, his pro-life stance--generate some good stories, as do his tales of the New Yorker (where William Shawn gave him his wings) and the ever-fractious Village Voice, for which he still writes a weekly column on civil liberties (he also writes a column for the Washington Post). Hentoff knew the warm but intense Malcolm X, hung out with cosmopolitan jazzmen and met his journalistic mentors, George Seldes and I.F. Stone. He discusses his dismay with Adlai Stevenson and criticizes Shawn and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, both of whom he admires, for betraying their standards. Even those opposing Hentoff's pro-life position will likely respect his moral stance, since it leads to fighting euthanasia and the American Civil Liberties Union's policy against testing newborns for HIV. Unfortunately, Hentoff's chapters about his wife and children are inserted awkwardly, and his reflections on his basic influences--the Bill of Rights, jazz, Jewishness--come late in the book. Described as ""terminally stubborn"" when granted an award by the National Press Foundation, Hentoff, as we're reminded here, has been a giant in defending civil liberties. A biographer might one day do more to link his achievements and his life. (Sept.)
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