Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

At the age of only thirty-five years, Norman Podhoretz had already been, for several years, the editor of Commentary, an important magazine published under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee, and the author of about one hundred pieces of nonfiction. These reviews and articles of various kinds had been appearing in print since 1963 in periodicals such as Partisan Review, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Show. Podhoretz had not yet written a book of his own, however, and felt the urgency to do so. Two events triggered the writing of Making It (1967). The first concerned James Baldwin and the publication of The Fire Next Time (1963). This important piece of writing had been commissioned by Podhoretz at Commentary, but Baldwin took the opportunity to get twenty times as much for it from The New Yorker. Podhoretz was furious and accused Baldwin of committing such an unprofessional act partly because, as a black, he would get away with it. Podhoretz further went on to assure Baldwin that he felt no white-liberal guilt, although, admittedly, his attitude toward blacks was less than saintly, based on real childhood experiences in Brooklyn. Baldwin responded by suggesting that Podhoretz write it all down and publish it, which Podhoretz did as “My Negro Problem—and Ours” in the February, 1963, issue of Commentary. This article, which suggested among other things that wholesale miscegenation, while unlikely, might be the best conclusion to the problem of integration in America, given that whites possessed more racist feelings than they admitted to and that blacks had at that time a secret dream of escaping their blackness, received a torrent of response. More important, it marked a breakthrough for Podhoretz as a writer, for it was the first time he had written in his own voice, not hiding behind the book under review while sneaking in his own opinions.


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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Cevasco, G.A. Review in Library Journal. XCIII (January 1, 1968), p. 69.

Goldberg, S.L. “The Education of Norman Podhoretz: Or, I Was a Teen-Age Intellectual,” in The Critical Review. XII (1968), pp. 83-106.

Kauffmann, Stanley. “Challenge of Success,” in The New Republic. CLVIII (January 27, 1968), p. 27.

Maloff, Saul. Review in Newsweek. LXXI (January 8, 1968), p. 62.

Raphael, Frederic. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXIII (January 7, 1968), p. 4.

Time. Review. XCI (January 19, 1968), p. 94.