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A Memoir

by Nat Hentoff

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43647-2
Publisher: Knopf

Memos packaged as a memoir from Village Voice and Washington Post columnist Hentoff (Listen to the Stories, 1995, etc.). Boston Boy (1986), his first memoir, told how Hentoff came to be the person he is. This volume tells how Hentoff came to the opinions he holds, which have made him one of American journalism's most passionate defenders of free speech and one of its most controversial opponents of abortion. Despite the book's billing, it's not much of a memoir. It comes off much better as a collection of essays that, for the most part, are as provocative and interesting as Hentoff's columns. He does not hold opinions lightly, nor does he shade his views to suit his audience or to curry favor. This assurance sometimes slips into self-righteousness--especially in the lengthy sections describing his views on abortion. Nor does Hentoff always come across, even in a book in which he gets to write what he wants about himself, as the nicest or most open-minded of men. But even at his hectoring, curmudgeonly worst, Hentoff tenders writing that is refreshing for its clarity of thought and voice. He credits his style to such journalist mentors as I.F. Stone and George Seldes, but even more to his first and abiding heroes, jazz musicians, "those embodiments of free expression." There are some inside stories here about life at the Voice and the New Yorker, where he was a long-time reporter, but was "retired" by its current editor, Tina Brown. And there are a couple of chapters about his wives and children, wedged in among the opinions. But it's opinions that command center stage here, with life as little more than the stage set. Perhaps Hentoff understood that, as interesting as his life may have been, the world needs ideas expressed clearly more than it needs another memoir.