Ex-Friends

Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer

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About The Book

Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer -- all are ex-friends of Norman Podhoretz, the renowned editor and critic and leading member of the group of New York intellectuals who came to be known as "the Family." As only a family member could, Podhoretz tells the story of these friendships, once central to his life, and shows how the political and cultural struggles of the past fifty years made them impossible to sustain. With wit, piercing insight, and startling honesty, we are introduced as never before to a type of person for whom ideas were often matters of life and death, and whose passing from the scene has left so large a gap in American culture.
Podhoretz was the trailblazer of the now-famous journey of a number of his fellow intellectuals from radicalism to conservatism -- a journey through which they came to exercise both cultural and political influence far beyond their number. With this fascinating account of his once happy and finally troubled relations with these cultural icons, Podhoretz helps us understand why that journey was undertaken and just how consequential it became. In the process we get a brilliantly illuminating picture of the writers and intellectuals who have done so much to shape our world.
Combining a personal memoir with literary, social, and political history, this unique gallery of stern and affectionate portraits is as entertaining as a novel and at the same time more instructive about postwar American culture than a formal scholarly study. Interwoven with these tales of some of the most quixotic and scintillating of contemporary American thinkers are themes that are introduced, developed, and redeveloped in a variety of contexts, with each appearance enriching the others, like a fugue in music. It is all here: the perversity of brilliance; the misuse of the mind; the benightedness of people usually considered especially enlightened; their human foibles and olympian detachment; the rigors to be endured and the prizes to be won and the prices to be paid for the reflective life.
Most people live their lives in a very different way, and at one point, in a defiantly provocative defense of the indifference shown to the things by which intellectuals are obsessed, Norman Podhoretz says that Socrates' assertion that the unexamined life was not worth living was one of the biggest lies ever propagated by a philosopher. And yet, one comes away from Ex-Friends feeling wistful for a day when ideas really mattered and when there were people around who cared more deeply about them than about anything else. Reading of a time when the finest minds of a generation regularly gathered in New York living rooms to debate one another with an articulateness, a passion, and a level of erudition almost extinct, we come to realize how enviable it can be to live a life as poignantly and purposefully examined as Norman Podhoretz's is in Ex-Friends.

About The Author
Photo Credit: Photodisc. Inc.
Product Details
  • Publisher: Free Press (May 2001)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743223416

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Raves and Reviews

Paul Johnson author of Modern Times and A History of the American People Norman Podhoretz has written a fascinating and impressively honest book about his friendships, estrangements, reconciliations, and continuing froideurs with political opponents among the New York intelligentsia. There is a positively Proustian quality about the nuances and subtleties of some of his dealings with fellow-scribes and gurus. All the usual suspects are here, in this invaluable addition to intellectual history, and they are seen in dress and undress, in benevolent mood and spitting rage.

Cynthia Ozick author of The Puttermesser Papers Behold, an utterly honest memoir -- confessional, contemplative, even wistful: yet despite the lucid serenity of its prose, passionately propelled. For all of us of Podhoretz's generation (and the next) who were obliged to stand outside the New York literary stewpot at the height of its roll, here is a hot ticket to the history of an explosive contest of ideas. Podhoretz's psychological -- and ironical -- report of his evolution from one end of the cultural spectrum to the other is much more than a political autobiography and far more tender: there is a generosity in its regret, and the clear Wordsworthian note of "raptures now forever flown."

William J. Bennett author of The Book of Virtues and The Death of Outrage Norman Podhoretz is one of this country's most consequential intellectuals. He is also one of its most enigmatic. For what to admire most in Podhoretz? His love for ideas? His rigorous intelligence? His political courage? His sparkling, combative pen? This splendid book renders the question even more puzzling. Ex-Friends is a compelling personal memoir and a fascinating political and social history.

Henry A. Kissinger Anyone interested in the evolution of the views of American intellectuals in the last half century will find Norman Podhoretz's account of his relations with key literary figures over that period indispensable. And in the process the reader will learn much about the fundamental issues that continue to challenge our country and the cause of freedom.

William Kristol editor and publisher, The Weekly Standard First he made it; then he broke ranks; now he looks back, with wit and verve and honesty -- and, yes, with affection. A remarkable account of the lost world of the New York intellectuals, of the 1960s, of the politics of ideas in modern America -- but more than all of these, an extraordinary reflection on the meaning of friendship. Norman Podhoretz has written a memoir that you can't put down and you won't forget.

Mario Vargas Llosa author of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto This excellent book offers a lucid and fascinating portrait of the ideological wars on the American literary and intellectual scene.

Robert Bork author of Slouching Towards Gomorrah For the past thirty years an unsuspected fault line has been producing a massive lurch of the tectonic plates of our culture and politics. Norman Podhoretz's broken friendships with eminent men and women are among the resulting eruptions. Fortunately for us, Podhoretz's intellectual honesty and native pugnacity landed him on the right plate and produced these endlessly fascinating and brilliant reminiscenes of intellectual combat.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Bold. Brilliant. Fascinating. Norman Podhoretz's Ex-Friends were the men and women whose opinions and sensibilities dominated American culture for half a century. Podhoretz's progressive estrangement from these taste-setters of American intellectual life illuminates our times.

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