Alfred Kazin's Journals

Yale University Press  2011

Selected from journals that total more than 7000 pages by Kazin’s biographer and obvious admirer Richard Cook, chair of the English Department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis,  the entries begin in 1933 when Kazin was a sophomore in college and conclude with entries from March 1988,  a few months before his death.  Kazin was admittedly compulsive about writing in his journal and writing in general.  A prolific author, he drew on ideas recorded in his  journals, most directly in his final publication, A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment (1996). He was a well-known and influential public critic from the 1940’s to the end of his life, teaching, reviewing, and writing commentaries on literature, literary figures, politics, and society. His journals are the immediate expressions of what interested him. Entries on Jews, anti-Semitism,  the Holocaust, Israel,  and social issues document his life-long identification as a “New York Jew” as well as his life-long ambivalence on the subject.  For those interested in Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel,  Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Saul Bellow, among others, Kazin’s uncensored entries will provide a personal perspective not often found elsewhere.  As for Israel and Jewish issues, his perspective is often that of a leftist outsider. The selected entries on his personal life reveal Kazin’s insecurities from childhood in a poor Jewish household, his sexual appetites – four marriages and many extra-marital affairs - and his harsh, often mean-spirited opinions about literary peers such as Irving Howe and Lionel Trilling.  

The index includes more than 900 individuals about whom Kazin wrote: authors – both past and contemporary - political figures, academics, editors, and publishers,  among others. Professor Cook’s editing is impressive.  Brief,  lucid essays introduce sections that define periods in Kazin’s life. Cook has footnoted every individual Kazin almentioned - invaluable, since many of the people, once well-known in the intellectual milieu of much of the twentieth century, have passed into relative obscurity.  Cook, raised in Maine and the son of two Baptist ministers, writing about the “New York Jew,” has done an admirable job.  

This book will continue to fan the fires of controversy about Alfred Kazin’s place in the intellectual history the last century but at the same time it is filled with expression of direct experience of life by a keen observer of much of the twentieth century, personal hang-ups notwithstanding.

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