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Richard M. Cook: Alfred Kazin; and Richard M. Cook (ed.): Alfred Kazin's Journals

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April 2012, no. 340

Richard M. Cook: Alfred Kazin; and Richard M. Cook (ed.): Alfred Kazin's Journals

Reviewed by
April 2012, no. 340

The fate of America’s pre-eminent twentieth-century critic

Don Anderson

 

Alfred Kazin: A Biography
by Richard M. Cook
Yale University Press (Inbooks), $49.95 hb, 452 pp, 9780300115055

 

Alfred Kazin’s Journals
edited by Richard M. Cook
Yale University Press (Inbooks), $59.95 hb, 621 pp, 9780300142037

 

If his biographer and editor of his Journals is to be believed, by the early 1960s the Brooklyn-born Alfred Kazin was ‘arguably the most sought-after and widely published critic’ in the United States. Kazin (1915–98) claimed that 1956–61 was ‘the greatest period in my life’. Having returned from a teaching post in Amherst to New York City, he succeeded in making a living as a freelance literary critic and essayist, assisted by the occasional visiting professorship (a form of assistance unavailable to his predecessor of sorts, the hero of George Gissing’s New Grub Street). Kazin’s reviews and essays appeared in the Atlantic, Harper’s, American Scholar, the New York Times Book Review, Commentary, Partisan Review, Reporter, and Playboy. He would publish eighty-two articles in the New York Review of Books, of which he observed, possibly biting one of the hands that fed him: ‘Critic for NY Review of Books – someone who argues brilliantly on behalf of the most arbitrary personal prejudices.’

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