C. WRIGHT MILLS: An American Utopian by Irving Louis Horowitz

C. WRIGHT MILLS: An American Utopian

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Early in this intellectual biography of the 1950s radical sociologist, Prof. Horowitz (Sociology, Rutgers) warns that he will minimize the ""personal elements"" (including Mills' three wives) lest they detract from ""our sense of Mills as social scientist, political actor, and American utopian."" This unfortunate abdication leaves a surprisingly dry account of a figure who was anything but. Horowitz skips over Mills' Texan childhood to start with his student days at the University of Texas, in the 1930s ""a veritable oasis surrounded by an educational desert."" After insinuating himself in the sociology department, Mills graduated in June 1939 with both a Bachelors and a Masters degree, and moved north to study and teach at the University of Wisconsin. There, his ""certain arrogance"" was less appreciated, and led him to work largely with the department's most marginal member, Hans Gerth (with whom he edited From Max Weber and co-authored Character and Social Structure). But the ""Athens of the Midwest"" proved but a ""way station toward the Mecca of the East""--Columbia University. En route, at the University of Maryland (1942-46), he developed his interest in intellectuals as a ""vanguard group, uniquely suited. . . to engage in the politics of truth on behalf of the powerless. . . ."" By the time he gained the sought-after Columbia appointment, he was part of the New York literary crowd of Dwight Macdonald, Irving Howe, and Daniel Bell. Again, he alienated his colleagues: ""He coveted the status and glory of elite institutions while despising their snobbery and style."" But he remained at Columbia, despite internal opposition and offers from more innovative universities. When Mills completed White Collar and The Power Elite, during the 1950s, Horowitz agrees with Seymour Martin Lipset that he ""could no longer really be properly defined as being within the field of sociology""--though to the public ""he was as closely identified with the field. . . as Margaret Mead was with anthropology."" The parting shot, The Sociological Imagination, represented not simply a statement of principles but also a settling of accounts with Columbia colleagues ""and a few from Harvard thrown in for good measure."" The biographical sketch is followed by a discussion of Mills' intellectual sources (pragmatism, the sociology of knowledge, Weber and Marx) and a review of his themes (power, the new middle classes, social reform). Social scientists still mourning Mills' early demise (in 1962, age 45) will enjoy the professional gossip and Horowitz's knowledgeable assessment of the work. But a fuller treatment of man and motive might better serve one of sociology's most--or few--colorful figures.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1983
ISBN: 143910624X
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan