From Publishers Weekly
Norman Podhoretz used to say, "One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan." Podhoretz's journey to become one of America's most prominent intellectuals is remarkable: from Brownsville, Brooklyn, where he was the son of immigrant Jews, to Columbia University, Cambridge and finally, the editorship of the important intellectual journal Commentary. During the past five decades, Podhoretz has produced notable books and essays on a variety of topics including literature, politics, Jewish thought and culture. This reader brings together a collection of these essays and book excerpts, tracking Podhoretz's journey from young literary critic in the '50s ("The Adventures of Saul Bellow") to leading provocative thinker in the '60s ("My Negro Problem-and Ours") to prominent and influential neoconservative in later decades ("From Breaking Ranks: Prologue: A Letter to My Son"). Whether he writes about Saul Bellow, Vietnam or Larry Flynt, Podhoretz produces essays that share a common strand: in addition to their general perspicacity and good writing, they are highly personal. Not only do these essays reflect the ideas of the time in which they were written but they also illustrate how those ideas have affected Podhoretz as a thinking person and as a human being. To confine Podhoretz, as many do, to a political camp is to misunderstand the man and his intellectual journey. While faithful conservatives will certainly appreciate this collection, anyone who is interested in reading or writing about ideas in a way that is meaningful should consider reading at least a sampling of Podhoretz's work.
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Drawn from a half-century of provocative output, this anthology traces both Podhoretz's personal intellectual journey from the Left to the Right, and his battles within the combative post-World War II New York intellectual elite, which he yearned to join (see Making It, 1967) and with which he became disgusted (see Ex-Friends, 1999). As historian Paul Johnson notes in the introduction, "Intellectuals play for keeps," and Podhoretz takes no prisoners here. Embarking on his career as a literary critic in the 1950s, Podhoretz slammed up-and-comers such as Saul Bellow and Allen Ginsberg, but at heart he was still an in-group radical. Divided into decades, the volume reflects Podhoretz's alienation from the Partisan Review crowd and his ever-closer affinity with Reagan-style conservatism, especially in foreign policy. A chapter from Why We Were in Vietnam (1982) exemplifies Podhoretz's attacking style, in this case on certain intellectuals' defense of the communist side in the Vietnam conflict. Whatever a reader's politics, any appreciation of intellectual history would be incomplete without a sampling of Podhoretz's work. Gilbert Taylor
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