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Alfred Kazin

A Biography

Richard M. Cook


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The first biography of Alfred Kazin–inveterate New Yorker, autobiographer, and perhaps the last great man of American letters in the tradition of Edmund Wilson

Born in 1915 to barely literate Jewish immigrants in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Alfred Kazin rose from near poverty to become a dominant figure in twentieth-century literary criticism and one of America’s last great men of letters. Biographer Richard M. Cook provides a portrait of Kazin in his public roles and in his frequently unhappy private life. Drawing on the personal journals Kazin kept for over 60 years, private correspondence, and numerous conversations with Kazin, he uncovers the full story of the lonely, stuttering boy from Jewish Brownsville who became a pioneering critic and influential cultural commentator.

Upon the appearance of On Native Grounds in 1942, Kazin was dubbed “the boy wonder of American criticism.” Numerous publications followed, including A Walker in the City and two other memoirs, books of criticism, as well as a stream of essays and reviews that ceased only with his death in 1998. Cook tells of Kazin’s childhood, his troubled marriages, and his relations with such figures as Lionel Trilling, Saul Bellow, Malcolm Cowley, Arthur Schlesinger, Hannah Arendt, and Daniel Bell. He illuminates Kazin’s thinking on political-cultural issues and the recurring way in which his subject’s personal life shaped his career as a public intellectual. Particular attention is paid to Kazin’s sense of himself as a Jewish-American “loner” whose inner estrangements gave him insight into the divisions at the heart of modern culture.

Praise For Alfred Kazin: A Biography

"A thorough, balanced, and very thoughtful life of one of twentieth-century America's premier critics and writers."—Sean Wilentz, Princeton University

— Sean Wilentz

"This is a splendid book, written with something of the verve of Kazin himself."—Denis Donoghue, author of The American Classics and Speaking of Beauty

— Denis Donoghue

"[Cook] is attuned to his subject and understands the forces that made this complex and difficult man tick. . . . [Cook] is an intelligent interpreter of his political values, motivations and actions."—Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

— Martin Rubin

Yale University Press, 9780300115055, 464pp.

Publication Date: January 28, 2008

About the Author

Richard M. Cook teaches American literature at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. His articles on Alfred Kazin and other figures in American literature have appeared in American Literary History, Michigan Quarterly, American Studies International, and elsewhere. He lives in St. Louis.