Alfred Kazin: A Biography

Richard Cook
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012

Born in 1915 to poor immi­grant par­ents, Alfred Kazin grew up in the intense­ly Jew­ish Brownsville neigh­bor­hood of Brook­lyn. An inse­cure, lone­ly, and iso­lat­ed child who stut­tered until he began to pub­lish at age nine­teen, Kazin grad­u­at­ed from City Col­lege and Colum­bia, and four years lat­er pub­lished his first book, On Native Grounds, a his­to­ry of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture that received tremen­dous acclaim both because of its bril­liance and its author’s pre­coc­i­ty. Best known for his book A Walk­er in the City, an evoca­tive account of Kazin’s Brownsville youth, and a cen­tral text in Amer­i­can – Jew­ish writ­ing, in his per­son­al life Kazin was plagued by stormy inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and trou­bled mar­riages (three). In his lat­er years, he focused on his Jew­ish roots, result­ing in his book New York Jew.

Cook cov­ers Kazin’s inter­est­ing and com­pli­cat­ed life, includ­ing his writ­ing, teach­ing posts world-wide, and friend­ships with famous writ­ers and pub­lic fig­ures, in this well researched and live­ly book. Black and white pho­tos and an exten­sive index round out an engag­ing and use­ful account of the life of this influ­en­tial writer-crit­ic and one of the great Amer­i­can men of letters.

Bar­bara S. Cohen is a tri­al attor­ney in Los Ange­les who spe­cial­izes in child abuse cas­es. She is a mem­ber of NAMI and a sup­port­er of NARSAD, and is an advo­cate for those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

Discussion Questions