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Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent
by Gerald Sorin

In a world where it seems as if popularity has become the one true measure of significance, it's hard to remember how crucial it once was to have enemies. Irving Howe, the eminent literary critic and longtime socialist, who died in 1993 at 72, accumulated quite a few. It was not that Howe was friendless -- far from it. A true intellectual hero of the left, he had legions of friends and followers. It was simply that Howe knew the importance of a good brawl.

He was bred in the rough and tumble radical circles of Depression-era New York, and cut his intellectual teeth among the writer-critics of Partisan Review, the group that he would later name the 'New York intellectuals.' In these worlds taking a stand was everything, and silence a far greater sin than overzealousness. Howe was a ferocious and agile warrior for what he believed in, a man with a talent for the political gibe who never hesitated to attack when he felt the occasion -- and the target -- demanded it. Indeed, even at those times when allies counseled caution, Howe found it hard to restrain himself; he saw each battle for ideas as a battle that had to be won.

In 'Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent,' Gerald Sorin, a professor of history at the State University of New York, New Paltz, portrays Howe the tough political fighter alongside the brilliant writer and generous friend. An empathetic biographer, Sorin sets out to understand Howe rather than to judge him.

Excerpted from New York Times Book Review by Joseph Dorman, March 2, 2003.

First chapter of "Irving Howe."

Howe
 


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