OUT OF STEP: A Life in the 20th Century by Sidney Hook
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OUT OF STEP: A Life in the 20th Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Now in his 84th year, philosopher Hook is publishing his very long, and very long-awaited memoir, which figures to be a landmark in socialist humanism. While not a rehash of earlier works, this is the story of Hook's philosophical and political consciousness. His marriages, divorce and children get little comment, life-threatening illnesses are mentioned only in passing. What he details here are his battles. Hook woke to socialism at 13 through the inspiration of Jack London's autobiographical novel Martin Eden, and in part through being labeled a Bolshevik by naive high-school teachers intimidated by his early gift for logic. He has always been out of step, though he has ""never made a virtue out of dissent as such. To do so seems as absurd as to celebrate assent as such. Both are mindless."" Some of his most compelling pages are the opening chapters about his rock-bottom Jewish youth in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, during which socialism brought dull college courses to life. From the beginning, his story is one of precocity: ""I was prematurely antiwar in 1917-1921, prematurely antifascist, prematurely a Communist fellow-traveler, prematurely an anticommunist, prematurely, in radical circles, a supporter of the war against Hitler, prematurely a cold warrior against Stalin's effort to extend the Gulag Archipelago, prematurely against the policy of detente and appeasement, prematurely for a national civil rights program and against all forms of invidious discrimination, including reverse discrimination."" We watch Hook's transformation from being the West's most towering and eloquent Marxist into being Marxism's most passionate opponent: ""I no longer believe that the central problem of our time is the choice between capitalism and socialism but the defense and enrichment of a free and open society against totalitarianism."" On his way to that belief, we follow his pivotal studies with John Dewey, his travels in Germany and the Soviet Union, his teaching career, his rebuke of the American intellectuals and crossing of swords with Max Eastman, meetings with Martin Heidegger, Bertolt Brecht, Einstein, Sartre, Arthur Koestler, Whittaker Chambers, Norman Thomas, Trotsky, and Bertrand Russell, among others. Earnest, pragmatic, and mercilessly down-to-earth about American democracy, Hook's clearminded flow draws the reader effortlessly from first page to last.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row