Irv­ing Howe: A Life of Pas­sion­ate Dissent

  • From the Publisher
November 6, 2012

By the time he died in 1993 at the age of 73, Irv­ing Howe was one of the twen­ti­eth century’s most impor­tant pub­lic thinkers. Deeply pas­sion­ate, com­mit­ted to social reform and sec­u­lar Jew­ish­ness, ardent­ly devot­ed to fic­tion and poet­ry, in love with base­ball, music, and bal­let, Howe wrote with such elo­quence and lived with such con­vic­tion that his extra­or­di­nary work is now part of the canon of Amer­i­can social thought.

In the first com­pre­hen­sive biog­ra­phy of Howe’s life, his­to­ri­an Ger­ald Sorin brings us close to this man who rose from Jew­ish immi­grant pover­ty in the 1930s to become one of the most provoca­tive intel­lec­tu­als of our time. Known most wide­ly for his award-win­ning book World of Our Fathers, a rich por­tray­al of the East Euro­pean Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in New York, Howe also won acclaim for his prodi­gious out­put of illu­mi­nat­ing essays on Amer­i­can cul­ture and as an inde­fati­ga­ble pro­mot­er of demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism as can be seen in the pages of Dis­sent, the jour­nal he edit­ed for near­ly forty years.

Deeply devot­ed to the ide­al of demo­c­ra­t­ic rad­i­cal­ism and true equal­i­ty, Howe was con­stant­ly engaged in a strug­gle for decen­cy and basic fair­ness in the face of social injus­tice. In the cen­tu­ry of Auschwitz, the Gulag, and glob­al inter-eth­nic mass mur­der, it was dif­fi­cult to sus­tain polit­i­cal cer­tain­ties and take pride in one’s human­i­ty. To have lived a life of con­vic­tion and engage­ment in that era was a notable achieve­ment. Irv­ing Howe lived such a life and Ger­ald Sorin has done a mas­ter­ful job of guid­ing us through it in all its pas­sion and complexity.

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