cover image Max Lerner: Pilgrim in the Promised Land

Max Lerner: Pilgrim in the Promised Land

Sanford A. Lakoff. University of Chicago Press, $28 (346pp) ISBN 978-0-226-46831-0

A writer, teacher, scholar, orator, theorist and womanizer, Max Lerner lived for most of the 20th century, from 1902 to 1992. Like other Eastern European Jewish immigrants to the United States, his life followed a familiar trajectory, from poor child of barely literate greenhorn parents to assimilated, well-educated youth to prominent journalist and professor. The political ideologies that goaded him as he became more and more middle class also follow a well-trod path, from socialist, to liberal, to neo-conservative. Like Sidney Hook and other white, male intellectuals of his generation, he eschewed the political upheaval created by mass movements. Instead, he sought ""civilized discourse"" and believed verbal compromise could resolve all conflicts. Lakoff's (Equality in Political Philosophy) biography raises a plethora of interesting issues, but shies away from positing the reasons for Lerner's many political shifts. While Lakoff outlines each switch, the book would have been richer had Lerner's path to conservatism been more fully explored. Likewise, Lerner's near-compulsive womanizing is presented as a fact of life, without analysis of sexism or misogyny. His blind spots on the intersections of race, class and gender are similarly ignored. Still, Lakoff has written an accessible, intriguing profile of a public intellectual whose newspaper columns reached and influenced millions. Lerner's own writing is quoted liberally, giving the book resonance and making this a vivid biography. (Oct.)