MAX LERNER by Sanford Lakoff


Pilgrim in the Promised Land
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A respectful biography of the immigrant journalist and sometime intellectual gadfly. Lerner, who came to the US from Russia in the wake of revolutionary-era pogroms, enjoyed early success as a scholar, despite the anti-Semitism that greeted him in the academy (a professor of his at Yale warned him, —I hate to tell you this, but you ought to know that, as a Jew, you—ll never get a teaching post in literature in any Ivy League college—). After earning his doctorate, Lerner went on to combine a teaching career at several prominent schools with a parallel career as a —public intellectual,— a journalist and editor for the Nation and other magazines. As a columnist for the short-lived newspaper PM and later the New York Post, Lakoff writes, Lerner would enjoy his greatest influence; an early defender of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms and vocal critic of Supreme Court justices who opposed them, he quickly rose to prominence in liberal circles, and his pieces were widely syndicated and reprinted. Lakoff, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, explores the evolution of Lerner’s political thought from Marxist to anti-Stalinist socialist to Cold War liberal. In the last guise, Lerner supported the American effort to contain the Soviet Union’s perceived expansionism and championed Lyndon Johnson’s policies in Vietnam. He also began to write of matters like Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages instead of the latest legislation or literary novel, and to spend more time at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion than at scholarly conferences. His retreat from activism and apparent acceptance of the status quo lost Lerner readers in the 1960s, and he would never regain his former influence, although writers ranging from William Buckley to I.F. Stone considered him to be among the best political journalists of his day—or any other. For readers interested in modern American political history, Lakoff’s life of the writer will be of much use.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-226-46831-3
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998