ONCE TO EVERY MAN: A Memoir by William Sloane Coffin
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ONCE TO EVERY MAN: A Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Forget the leaden half-truth part-quoted as title. The real title is a phrase on almost the last page. After seventeen years, the author had just quit the tenured and supportive Yale chaplaincy with which he was completely identified in the public eye. The house went with the job. His second, departing wife had removed her share of the furnishings. Coffin was in the kitchen handing the remnants to his daughter, seated on the floor. Suddenly, it all got to him: ""Amy, we have only four forks!"" he cried and burst into tears. If this is how it ended, how did it begin? Coffin was born in 1924 to a family living in a new two-story penthouse on the upper East Side, with a subsidiary establishment in Oyster Bay. Father worked at W. J. Sloane, the family business, and an uncle was president of Union Theological Seminary. At age fourteen Coffin was in Paris, a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, practicing piano five hours a day. At nineteen he was in the army. Four years later, a Russian expert in Intelligence, he left to enter Yale's junior year. At this point he began to look for the subtleties of good and evil to understand his recent experience, and the Coffin we now know started to emerge. Although he went into the CIA for the Korean War, he no longer boxed with like-minded Russian officers, and back at Yale as Chaplain the pattern of battle over anti-Semitic admission practices, civil rights in the South, and opposition to the Vietnam War developed. Though some of this may be an important part of the public record, the book's overwhelming characteristic derives from Coffin's understanding of people, himself included, and his enjoyment of talking and working with them. The great mingle with the Russian emigrÉs, American soldiers, and ministers, but everything has its place in the purposes that came to dominate the author's life. He is not only a superb raconteur--one often laughs out loud--but an affecting witness.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1977
Publisher: Atheneum