Norman Podhoretz Essay - Critical Essays

Podhoretz, Norman


Norman Podhoretz 1930-

American essayist, memoirist, critic, historian, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Podhoretz's career through 2004.

A former student of renowned social critics Lionel Trilling, F. W. Dupee, and F. R. Leavis, Podhoretz is a leading neo-conservative writer, editor, and memoirist whose highly politicized prose style has been characterized as both straightforward and confrontational. Once aligned with the liberal, leftist New York intelligentsia—known collectively as “The Family”—Podhoretz gradually became an outspoken member of the neo-conservative Right, arguing that the Family had become too radical in their beliefs. Podhoretz chronicles his political shift and personal clashes in his essays and memoirs, which also cover such topics as American foreign policy, Jewish affairs, and race relations.

Biographical Information

Podhoretz was born on January 16, 1930, in a working-class section of Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrants Julius and Helen Podhoretz. A talented student, Podhoretz was perceived as uneducated due to his Brooklyn accent and was forced to attend a mandatory speech class. Podhoretz subsequently won a Pulitzer scholarship to Columbia University, where he studied under professors Lionel Trilling and F. W. Dupee, receiving an A.B. degree in literature and criticism in 1950. He concurrently earned a degree in Hebrew literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary. During the 1950s, Podhoretz also earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Cambridge University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and Kellett Fellow. While at Cambridge, Podhoretz studied under noted critic F. R. Leavis. Between 1953 and 1955, Podhoretz served in the United States Army in occupied Germany. In 1955 he secured a position as an assistant editor of the political magazine Commentary, rising through the ranks to become editor-in-chief in 1960. Podhoretz became instrumental in setting the political tone of the magazine and, at the time, he was aligned with left-wing anti-communists. His social circle included poet Allen Ginsberg, political critic Hannah Arendt, novelist Norman Mailer, activist and socialite Lillian Hellman, intellectual Mary McCarthy, and Marxist Philip Rahv. However, after his controversial first memoir, Making It (1967), was shunned by his peers—who were growing increasingly anti-American and radical—Podhoretz decided to break away from the Left, a move he chronicles in Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir (1979). His political shift cost him several friendships and left him ostracized from the Family, but he gained fame and respect in conservative circles as an outspoken and influential writer and editor. Podhoretz served as chair of the New Directions Advisory Committee of the United States Information Agency from 1981 to 1987. He became a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in 1995, at which time he stepped down as editor-in-chief of Commentary. He remains as an editor-at-large for the magazine and continues to write and speak about social, cultural, and international issues. He has served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Boston College, Hamilton College, Yeshiva University, and Adelphi University.

Major Works

Podhoretz's first work, Doings and Undoings: The Fifties and after in American Writing (1964), collects several of his previously published essays, covering a range of literary-cultural topics and social commentary. The volume includes one of his most famous and controversial essays, “My Negro Problem—and Ours,” which highlights the difficulties that African Americans faced in obtaining cultural acceptance in the 1960s. The memoirMaking It revolves around Podhoretz's attempt to uncover the modern era's “dirty little secret”—success and the ambition for success. Podhoretz argues that during the 1950s and 1960s being proud of one's success was considered taboo, and Making It offers an unapologetic and unabashed celebration of Podhoretz's business, social, and financial success. Podhoretz has admitted to borrowing the phrase “dirty little secret” from D. H. Lawrence, who used the term to apply to the Victorian attitude toward sex. Breaking Ranks, Podhoretz's second autobiographical volume, revived the critical debate surrounding Making It, as Podhoretz chronicles his growing disaffection for the radical Left. He expresses astonishment that several of the ideas and values he helped shape as a member of the Family have since evolved into more radical and anti-American beliefs, spawning anti-patriotic and morally reprehensible behavior from some radicals. Podhoretz discusses U.S.-Soviet relations in The Present Danger: Do We Have the Will to Reverse the Decline of American Power? (1980), taking the stand that the United States needed to make a stronger effort—using force if necessary—to contain the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Although originally opposed to United States involvement in the Vietnam conflict, in Why We Were in Vietnam (1982), Podhoretz argues that the United States was obligated to guard other countries from the menace of communism. Podhoretz bolsters his argument with tales of the atrocities experienced by the South Vietnamese after the United States left the country and withheld promised aid. The essay collection The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet (1986) takes its title from a quote by Lionel Trilling and presents critical and political evaluations of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, George Orwell, Albert Camus, F. R. Leavis, Milan Kundera, Henry Kissinger, and Henry Adams. Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer (1999) revisits Podhoretz's relationship with members of the Family, expounding on Podhoretz's reasons for attaining and ultimately turning his back on friendships with these intellectuals. The autobiographical My Love Affair with America: The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative (2000) explores patriotic rights and responsibilities, presenting Podhoretz's personal definition of a patriotic American and citing examples of Podhoretz's own efforts to serve his country. Unique from his past works, The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are (2002) examines the historical lives of Judaic prophets, noting how their various spiritual messages apply to both biblical and modern times. In 2004 Podhoretz published the Norman Podhoretz Reader: A Selection of His Writings from the 1950s through the 1990s, a selection of his political and autobiographical writing throughout his career.

Critical Reception

Critical response to Podhoretz's work has been sharply divided, often split down political lines. Arnold Beichman has declared that Podhoretz “is probably one of the most accomplished politico-literary polemicists of modern times; he takes no prisoners.” Conversely, Christopher Hitchens has stated that, “[l]ike all reactionaries who think that they are against the stream, and who appear to believe in his case that American power is controlled by the New York Review of Books, Podhoretz winds up mouthing mainstream commonplaces under the illusion that he is saying the unsayable.” Making It has received a measure of praise for the author's bold thesis, but the majority of critics have panned the memoir, deriding the work as overly self-absorbed and self-congratulatory. Since Podhoretz's shift from the Left to the Right, his subsequent works have received harsh criticism from both sides. Breaking Ranks and Why We Were in Vietnam have attracted considerable criticism for being politically motivated and self-serving. Podhoretz's political evolution has also caused some commentators to express difficulty in understanding his stance on certain political issues, asserting that the author regularly censures ideas he had once previously supported. Podhoretz's motivations for composing Ex-Friends have also been widely debated. Though some have viewed the memoir as a unique look into the New York intelligentsia scene of the 1950s, others have faulted Ex-Friends for retreading material covered in Podhoretz's previous memoirs and for speaking ill of the dead. However, some reviewers have asserted that Ex-Friends reads as collection of regretful and affectionate remembrances of times past. The reception of Podhoretz's nonpolitical The Prophets has been largely positive, with scholars lauding the work as a strong testament of faith throughout the ages.

Principal Works

Doings and Undoings: The Fifties and after in American Writing (essays and criticism) 1964

The Commentary Reader: Two Decades of Articles and Stories [editor] (essays and journalism) 1966

Making It (memoir) 1967

Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir (memoir) 1979

The Present Danger: Do We Have the Will to Reverse the Decline of American Power? (criticism) 1980

Why We Were in Vietnam (criticism) 1982

The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet (essays and criticism) 1986

Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer (memoir) 1999

My Love Affair with America: The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative (memoir) 2000

The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are (history and criticism) 2002

Norman Podhoretz Reader: A Selection of His Writings from the 1950s through the 1990s [edited by Thomas L. Jeffers] (essays, memoirs, and criticism) 2004


A. Alvarez (review date 9 July 1965)

SOURCE: Alvarez, A. “Critic on the Hearth.” Spectator, no. 7150 (9 July 1965): 52-3.

[In the following review, Alvarez acknowledges the sharpness of the essays collected in Doings and Undoings but stresses that he is uncomfortable with Podhoretz's evolution from a literary critic to a moral sentinel.]

In one of the most intriguing essays in an immensely intriguing collection [Doings and Undoings: The Fifties and after in American Writing] Norman Podhoretz sets out to defend “The Article as Art”:

Why should the magazine article, of all things, have become so important and fertile a genre in our day? Why have so...

(The entire section is 1352 words.)

Roderick Nordell (review date 11 January 1968)

SOURCE: Nordell, Roderick. “He Typed His Way Up.” Christian Science Monitor 60, no. 39 (11 January 1968): 11.

[In the following review, Nordell comments on the “self-congratulatory” statements in Podhoretz's memoir Making It and argues that the book's strongest passages are those in which Podhoretz writes about his associates.]

The literary version of American success typically has power, fame, and money turning to ashes as soon as they are won. Now a going-on-40 critic and editor, who has been “thought of as spokesman for his literary age group,” tastes the ashes and finds them good.

The depression-child intellectual from Brooklyn...

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Albert Bermel (review date 29 January 1968)

SOURCE: Bermel, Albert. “Talking It Up.” New Leader 51, no. 3 (29 January 1968): 18-20.

[In the following review, Bermel extols Podhoretz's candor about his success in Making It, applauding the author's accessible use of vernacular prose.]

Norman Podhoretz has not lived a life; he has been inhabited by a career. In Making It he chronicles his rise from Brooklyn schoolboy and son of a milkman all the way up to editor of Commentary. Under his guidance, the magazine has increased its circulation. The White House was alerted by his essay, “My Negro Problem—and Ours,” consulted him in person, and now has a program for tackling Podhoretz's...

(The entire section is 2835 words.)

Gerald Weales (review date February 1968)

SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “Making It Home.” Kenyon Review 30, no. 119 (February 1968): 282-88.

[In the following excerpt, Weales expresses his disbelief regarding the numerous personal “hardships” Podhoretz describes in Making It, noting that the memoir portrays Podhoretz as a paranoid martyr figure.]

A first section of Willie Morris' North toward Home appeared in Commentary (August 1966) and a generous slice of Norman Podhoretz's Making It in Harper's (December 1967). I am not suggesting a conspiracy, a you-print-me-and-I'll-print-you agreement (even though Mrs. Podhoretz is one of Morris' editors at Harper's). I am...

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Edgar Z. Friedenberg (review date 1 February 1968)

SOURCE: Friedenberg, Edgar Z. “Du côté de chez Podhoretz.” New York Review of Books 10, no. 2 (1 February 1968): 11-13.

[In the following review, Friedenberg compliments Podhoretz's “illuminating” recollections of his rise in wealth, fame, and social stature in Making It but notes that the memoir lacks any significant description of Podhoretz's family life.]

“For taking my career as seriously as I do in this book. I will no doubt be accused of self-inflation and therefore of tastelessness,” Norman Podhoretz writes in the Preface to Making It. “So be it. There was a time when to talk candidly about sex was similarly regarded as...

(The entire section is 2746 words.)

Daniel Stern (review date 16 February 1968)

SOURCE: Stern, Daniel. “Norman Podhoretz, Distinguished Provincial or Fantasy Person?” Commonweal 87, no. 19 (16 February 1968): 594-96.

[In the following review, Stern asserts that Podhoretz fails to describe himself accurately in Making It, arguing that the memoir instead presents a caricature of the man Podhoretz visualizes himself to be.]

The word was out as long ago as eight months, perhaps longer. Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary and key figure in the New York Literary Establishment, had written a book that tore the lid off. The buzz was everywhere. An item in the Sunday Times Book Review told what had been joked about at the...

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John Romano (review date 5 November 1979)

SOURCE: Romano, John. “Writers & Writing: Making Politics Simple.” New Leader 62, no. 21 (5 November 1979): 16-17.

[In the following review, Romano debates the wisdom of Podhoretz's intractability and black-and-white view of politics in Breaking Ranks.]

There appeared, recently, on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, a very amusing account of a disease called Sixtomania. The sufferer compulsively refers to the '60s, pines for the '60s, understands the '50s or the '70s only in relation to the '60s, understands himself only in relation to the '60s, etc. Mild cases of this disease are common, but I know just two people in whom the symptoms are far...

(The entire section is 1676 words.)

Hilton Kramer (review date 17 November 1979)

SOURCE: Kramer, Hilton. Review of Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir, by Norman Podhoretz. New Republic 181, no. 20 (17 November 1979): 32-5.

[In the following review of Breaking Ranks, Kramer admires Podhoretz's bravery for being instrumental in establishing a liberal, anti-Communist political movement and then breaking away from that movement when its ideals became too radical.]

It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.

—Charles Péguy, in Notre Patrie

Among the writers and intellectuals...

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Paul Johnson (review date 9 February 1980)

SOURCE: Johnson, Paul. “Shock Troops.” Spectator 274, no. 7909 (9 February 1980): 17-18.

[In the following excerpt, Johnson assesses Podhoretz's political views and his personal insights about prominent politicians, intellectuals, and the social elite in Breaking Ranks.]

New Yorkers, like Parisians, bring to the business of being an intellectual a dedication and seriousness which leaves us English flabbergasted. No Englishman and very few Englishwomen allow their intellectual (or political) views to invade their social lives. We may change our parties, even our beliefs, but never our friends. Our intellectual games are not played, as children say, ‘for keeps’....

(The entire section is 881 words.)

Christopher Hitchens (review date 21 March 1980)

SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher. “Born-Again Conformist.” New Statesman 99, no. 255 (21 March 1980): 437-38.

[In the following review, Hitchens criticizes Podhoretz's political posturing and ignoble descriptions of fellow intellectuals and contemporaries in his two memoirs, Making It and Breaking Ranks.]

Anglo-American commentary on ‘culture and society’ has sometimes been infiltrated by writers who believe they are Orwell but who think like Babbitt. Norman Podhoretz, for example, is to Manhattan what Bernard Levin has become to our commuter belt—a born-again conformist with some interesting disorders of the ego. If this seems an excessive way to begin a...

(The entire section is 1834 words.)

Theodore Draper (review date 10 March 1982)

SOURCE: Draper, Theodore. “The Revised Version.” New Republic 186, no. 10 (10 March 1982): 30-4.

[In the following review, Draper contends that Podhoretz's Why We Were in Vietnam is flawed in both logic and background facts, noting that the author conveniently refuses to fully disclose his past affiliations and comments.]

Norman Podhoretz likes to be the fugleman of the latest political revelation. For this reason, his reconsideration of the Vietnam War [in Why We Were in Vietnam] may be an awful portent. It could be the signal for a corrosive campaign to reopen the wounds of the war and envenom American political life once again. We may not even be...

(The entire section is 3194 words.)

Charles Burton Marshall (review date 2 April 1982)

SOURCE: Marshall, Charles Burton. “Lucky No Longer.” National Review 34, no. 6 (2 April 1982): 363-64.

[In the following review, Marshall agrees with Podhoretz's opinions in Why We Were in Vietnam regarding the lack of popular support for United States military intervention in Vietnam.]

Norman Podhoretz's Why We Were in Vietnam is a sharp disquisition in political pathology. Given my own reactions at the time—as long ago as 1954 I was convinced of the futility of getting into war over the future of a distant and recalcitrant land against close-by forces bent on possession, but once we had entered the conflict I was loath to be seen siding with...

(The entire section is 1674 words.)

Stephen J. Morris (review date winter 1983)

SOURCE: Morris, Stephen J. “Second Thoughts on the Vietnam War.” Policy Review, no. 23 (winter 1983): 176-85.

[In the following review, Morris refutes Theodore Draper's scathing criticism of Why We Were in Vietnam—from the March 10, 1982, edition of New Republic—and presents a positive assessment of the work, comparing it to Michael Charlton and Anthony Moncrieff's Many Reasons Why: The American Involvement in Vietnam and Denis Warner's Certain Victory: How Hanoi Won the War.]

By the late 1960s the view that American intervention in Vietnam was morally wrong had become the received wisdom amongst American intellectuals and America's...

(The entire section is 4948 words.)

Barry Gewen (review date 7-21 April 1986)

SOURCE: Gewen, Barry. “Pious Patriotics.” New Leader 69, no. 7 (7-21 April 1986): 3-4.

[In the following review, Gewen offers both positive and negative assessments of the individual essays in The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet. Gewen also admits his confusion with Podhoretz's affinity for George Orwell, noting that Orwell shares many of the same political views as Podhoretz's political adversaries.]

Norman Podhoretz is the most strident of the neo-conservatives. He is the cheerleader of the group, its street fighter and its hanging judge. Although his pronouncements on economic and foreign policy—support for free-market capitalism,...

(The entire section is 1658 words.)

Merle Rubin (review date 23 May 1986)

SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Forthright Essays Reveal the World according to Podhoretz.” Christian Science Monitor 78, no. 125 (23 May 1986): 24.

[In the following review, Rubin argues that, although Podhoretz is often wrong in his assumptions and at times too retractable in his beliefs, The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet is both a stimulating and engaging collection of essays.]

Controversy has always been Norman Podhoretz's element. As editor of the magazine Commentary, he reminds us, he was among the first to publish substantive criticism of American involvement in Southeast Asia, back in the early 1960s. Yet, by 1982, he was...

(The entire section is 813 words.)

Jeffrey Hart (review date 4 July 1986)

SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “The Good Fight.” National Review 38, no. 12 (4 July 1986): 36-7.

[In the following review, Hart compliments Podhoretz's acumen in identifying subversive trends in the literary world in The Bloody Crossroads, lauding Podhoretz's arguments as sound and reasonable.]

Norman Podhoretz studied at Columbia with Lionel Trilling, then won a fellowship to Cambridge and worked with F. R. Leavis. Both of these modern masters are present in this book, at once as explicit subject—the title itself comes from Trilling—and as critical example. Trilling was a superb cultural critic, specifically of the liberal culture of his time, to which he had a...

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Conor Cruise O'Brien (review date 9 October 1986)

SOURCE: O'Brien, Conor Cruise. “Trop de Zèle.” New York Review of Books 33, no. 15 (9 October 1986): 11-14.

[In the following review, O'Brien utilizes sarcasm and irony to debunk several of Podhoretz's central arguments in The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet.]

The title and subtitle together make up a quotation from Lionel Trilling. [The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet] is made up of nine essays: on the writers of The God That Failed group; on Camus and his critics; on Orwell; on F. R. Leavis; on Henry Adams; on “The Adversary Culture and the New Class”; on Kissinger, on Milan Kundera, and on...

(The entire section is 3968 words.)

Mark Gerson (essay date fall 1995)

SOURCE: Gerson, Mark. “Norman's Conquest: A Commentary on the Podhoretz Legacy.” Policy Review, no. 74 (fall 1995): 64-8.

[In the following essay, Gerson traces Podhoretz's rise in political and editorial stature, chronicling how Podhoretz's articles and essays trace his gradual shift from the liberal Left to the neo-Conservative Right.]

In the early 1960s, the great Columbia professor and literary critic Lionel Trilling warned of the impending “Norman Invasion.” He was talking about three brash and brilliant young stars of the literary world—Norman O. Brown, Norman Mailer, and Norman Podhoretz. A generation later, no one recalls Norman O. Brown, and Norman...

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Marcus Klein (review date 14 December 1998)

SOURCE: Klein, Marcus. “A Jittery Outsidedness.” New Leader 81, no. 14 (14 December 1998): 20-2.

[In the following review, Klein depicts Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer as an unoriginal continuation of Podhoretz's previous memoirs which rehashes the same arguments without providing additional insights.]

You have to wonder why Norman Podhoretz wrote this book [Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer]. Twenty years ago, in Breaking Ranks, he told essentially the same story,...

(The entire section is 1997 words.)

Norman Podhoretz and Jennifer Schuessler (interview date 25 January 1999)

SOURCE: Podhoretz, Norman, and Jennifer Schuessler. “Norman Podhoretz: Making Enemies.” Publishers Weekly 246, no. 4 (25 January 1999): 67-8.

[In the following interview, Podhoretz discusses his relationship with his “ex-friends,” the reasons for his switch from Left-wing to Right-wing politics, and his feelings regarding the critical reception of his works.]

In a career spanning some 45 years, Norman Podhoretz has stood as an object lesson in how to make enemies and influence people. As the longtime editor of Commentary magazine and the author of such books as Why We Were in Vietnam (1982) and The Present Danger (1980), he has been one of...

(The entire section is 2071 words.)

Nicholas Lemann (review date January-February 1999)

SOURCE: Lemann, Nicholas. “The Outcast.” Washington Monthly 31, nos. 1-2 (January-February 1999): 37-40.

[In the following review, Lemann examines the evolution of Podhoretz's relationships with his past associates as described in Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer.]

I had a distinctly middle-aged moment when I picked up the galley proof of Norman Podhoretz's Ex-Friends. The publisher's blurb on the inside cover says: “[T]his memoir of some of the key intellectual battles of the last 30 years offers a rare, firsthand portrait of the New York intellectuals—‘American...

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Jeffrey Hart (review date 8 February 1999)

SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “Family Man.” National Review 51, no. 2 (8 February 1999): 51-2.

[In the following review, Hart characterizes Ex-Friends as an insightful, deftly written collection that is part memoir, part cultural history, part psychology study, and part eulogy.]

It is difficult to find the terms with which to describe all the excellences of this … well, what is it? [Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer] is autobiography, to be sure, but also important political and cultural history, an intense account of battles about ideas, of Norman Podhoretz's arguments...

(The entire section is 1295 words.)

Carl Rollyson (review date March 1999)

SOURCE: Rollyson, Carl. “After the Fall.” New Criterion 17, no. 7 (March 1999): 62-5.

[In the following review, Rollyson commends Podhoretz's provoking remembrances in Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer and highlights how “The Family” influenced the cultural and political scene of the late twentieth century.]

Ex-Friends is volume three, so to speak, of Norman Podhoretz's voyage through and out of the world of the New York intellectuals—or “the Family,” as he prefers to call them. Podhoretz did not realize that he was on the road to apostasy when his 1968...

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William F. Buckley, Jr. (review date 8 March 1999)

SOURCE: Buckley, Jr., William F. “Counting Ex-Friends.” National Review 51, no. 4 (8 March 1999): 58-9.

[In the following review, Buckley—the founder of the National Review—extols Podhoretz's narrative skills and comments that the readers of Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer are privy to invaluable insights of the political and intellectual elite during the 1950s and 1960s.]

The title of the new book by Norman Podhoretz stops you dead. You wish, fleetingly, that you had written a book with that zingy title: Ex-Friends. Well, maybe not—maybe we'd prefer...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

Arnold Beichman (review date April-May 1999)

SOURCE: Beichman, Arnold. “Jolly Ex-Friends for Evermore.” Policy Review, no. 94 (April-May 1999): 82-8.

[In the following review, Beichman applauds “Podhoretz's sensitively and beautifully composed autobiographical” narrative in Ex-Friends and nostalgically describes the atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s when Podhoretz was a member of “The Family.” Beichman also comments that his perspective is potentially biased because he is “mentioned favorably three times in” Ex-Friends.]

There are plenty of reasons why I should disqualify myself as a reviewer of Norman Podhoretz's sensitively and beautifully composed autobiographical chapter [Ex-Friends:...

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H. J. Kaplan (review date summer 1999)

SOURCE: Kaplan, H. J. “Homage to Norman Podhoretz.” Partisan Review 66, no. 3 (summer 1999): 431-38.

[In the following review, Kaplan characterizes Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer as an insightful and thoughtful memoir.]

“I have often said that if I wish to name-drop,” says Norman Podhoretz in the opening sentence of his new book, “I have only to list my ex-friends. The remark always gets a laugh, but, in addition to being funny, it has the advantage of being true.” And thus does this well-known curmudgeon go straight to the heart of his matter. Although now in...

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Sanford Pinsker (review date winter 2000)

SOURCE: Pinsker, Sanford. “Breaking up Is (Sorta) Hard to Do.” Virginia Quarterly Review 76, no. 1 (winter 2000): 183-88.

[In the following review, Pinsker notes that, though he disagrees with Podhoretz both political and ideologically, Ex-Friends is a finely crafted and illuminating memoir about the authors's past friendships amongst the post-World War II New York intelligentsia.]

Norman Podhoretz's latest effort at blending memoir and cultural commentary [Ex-Friends: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer] reminds us of just how long and protracted his leave-takings have been....

(The entire section is 2163 words.)

Jacob Heilbrunn (review date May-June 2000)

SOURCE: Heilbrunn, Jacob. “Rebel on the Right.” New Leader 83, no. 2 (May-June 2000): 45-7.

[In the following review of My Love Affair with America, Heilbrunn addresses Podhoretz's patriotism and his political evolution throughout his career.]

When conservatives set about fashioning the Reagan revolution, they could hardly have realized that some of their ideas would be used to remake the Democratic Party. This paradox nevertheless occurred thanks to President Bill Clinton, who despite the Right's hatred of him, has been the functional equivalent of a Republican mole. From embracing school uniforms to signing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, Clinton has wiped...

(The entire section is 1624 words.)

Jim Sleeper (review date 2 July 2000)

SOURCE: Sleeper, Jim. “Yankee Doodle Dandy: Making It in America While Breaking Ranks and Settling Scores.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (2 July 2000): 6-8.

[In the following review, Sleeper recognizes that Podhoretz is attempting to illuminate a plan for America's ideological future in My Love Affair with America but argues that Podhoretz's message is overrun by his own small-mindedness and inflexibility.]


The truculent conservative writer and editor Norman Podhoretz “did not … fight his way out of ‘political leftism’ to abide ‘the anti-Americanism of the Right,’” writes Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the cover of...

(The entire section is 4597 words.)

Seth Lipsky (review date 31 July 2000)

SOURCE: Lipsky, Seth. “The Patriot.” National Review 52, no. 14 (31 July 2000): 45-6.

[In the following review, Lipsky offers a positive assessment of My Love Affair with America, agreeing with several of Podhoretz's major themes.]

When Norman Podhoretz stepped down as editor of Commentary, the Forward, which I was then editing, published a Podhoretz Sampler. To compile it we read all of the pieces he had written for the magazine he edited for 35 years. It would have been possible to garner a memorable paragraph from nearly every one of them, though limitations on space permitted us to quote only two dozen. We wrote a brief italic introduction...

(The entire section is 1174 words.)

James Bowman (review date September 2000)

SOURCE: Bowman, James. “Patriotism of the Heart.” New Criterion 19, no. 1 (September 2000): 72-4.

[In the following review, Bowman applauds My Love Affair with America as an “impressive emotional and intellectual autobiography,” particularly commending Podhoretz's ideas regarding American patriotism.]

Why, I wonder, does Norman Podhoretz subtitle the latest installment of his impressive emotional and intellectual autobiography [My Love Affair with America] a “cautionary tale”? Against what are we cautioned? Why should we be warned, like Belloe's naughty children, by a touching account of the education in “Americanism” of a son of...

(The entire section is 1431 words.)

Ellen Willis (review date fall 2000)

SOURCE: Willis, Ellen. “Buy American.” Dissent 47, no. 4 (fall 2000): 108-11.

[In the following review, Willis disagrees with Podhoretz's overly affluent view of patriotism in My Love Affair with America.]

In a recent issue of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz pronounces American Pastoral Philip Roth's best novel, while confessing his uncertainty that this is a disinterested aesthetic judgment, because the novel's political implications resonate so well with his own views. At first this scruple struck me as misplaced. Though I agree with Podhoretz on little else, I was blown away by American Pastoral, which taps into the potency of the American...

(The entire section is 2733 words.)

Michael Potemra (review date 9 December 2002)

SOURCE: Potemra, Michael. “Voices of the One God.” National Review 54, no. 23 (9 December 2002): 46-8.

[In the following review, Potemra lauds Podhoretz's study of biblical realms in The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are, asserting that the author intelligently and delicately explains the history of religious prophets, their lives, and their messages.]

Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el.” The time is the late 8th century B.C., and the speaker is Isaiah the prophet; he is telling Ahaz, the king of Judah, about a sign of hope that will soon be manifested in his war-threatened kingdom. This, at least,...

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Hadley Arkes (review date January 2003)

SOURCE: Arkes, Hadley. “The Prophets Today.” New Criterion 21, no. 5 (January 2003): 62-7.

[In the following review, Arkes examines Podhoretz's theological theories and beliefs in The Prophets, noting that Podhoretz presents the material with humility and respect.]

Norman Podhoretz approaches the prophets of the Hebrew Bible with all the care that scholarship can bring to the project [in The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are]. But his purpose in the end is to administer a jolt—to bring out the challenge that classical prophecy would pose against the orthodoxies of our own day. Those new orthodoxies have commanded their deepest allegiance among...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 19 January 2004)

SOURCE: Review of The Norman Podhoretz Reader: A Selection of His Writings from the 1950s through the 1990s, by Norman Podhoretz. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 3 (19 January 2004): 68.

[In the following review, the critic argues that The Norman Podhoretz Reader: A Selection of His Writings from the 1950s through the 1990s offers a comprehensive selection of Podhoretz's political writing and recommends the collection to “anyone who is interested in reading or writing about ideas in a way that is meaningful.”]

Norman Podhoretz used to say, “One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan.” Podhoretz's journey to...

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Further Reading


Halkin, Hillel. “Smashing the Idols.” Commentary 114, no. 4 (November 2002): 65-70.

Halkin asserts that Podhoretz employs a “layman's” perspective in The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are, which renders the subject material both accessible and satisfying.

Hitchens, Christopher. “No End of a Lesson.” Nation 234, no. 13 (3 April 1982): 403-04.

Hitchens derides Podhoretz's dominant themes in Why We Were in Vietnam, questioning what motivated the author to write such a flawed work.

Jeffers, Thomas L. “Norman Podhoretz's Discourses on America.” Hudson...

(The entire section is 265 words.)