IRVING HOWE: A Life of Passionate Dissent

Gerald Sorin, Author . New York Univ. $32.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8147-9821-8

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)

Reviewed on: 12/02/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 386 pages - 978-0-8147-4020-0
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