Boston Boy (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
In person, Nat Hentoff is an unprepossessing man. Slight of build, a little disheveled, mildly absent-minded, a trifle out of focus, lacking rhetorical fire, he seems for all the world like a retirement-age Jewish academic. This indeed he might well have become, save for the jazz, the politics, and the contentiousness he absorbed in his youth in Boston. The Hentoff of this memoir is startlingly different from the personage one encounters on the current college-lecture circuit—wearily reasserting left-liberal strategies to combat Reaganism. For Boston Boy is a thoroughly lively, completely absorbing exploration of Hentoff’s first twenty-eight years. Those who have followed his curiously meandering career since his arrival at Down Beat magazine will find this book an invaluable source of insights about Hentoff’s well-known passions: First Amendment liberties, civil rights, the possibilities of the public schools, and music. Also, the book is certain to become a basic text for those interested in the rise of the “New York intellectuals” of the 1950’s and 1960’s, of which Hentoff was a dissident specimen. Thus, Boston Boy deserves comparison with such works as Irving Howe’s A Margin of Hope (1982), an intellectual autobiography—covering roughly the same period—of Dissent’s famous editor. (William Phillips’ A Partisan View: Five Decades of the Literary Life, 1984, is another title of relevance...
(The entire section is 2162 words.)
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