Breaking Ranks, a Political Memoir by Norman Podhoretz - review by Frederic Raphael

Frederic Raphael

Higher Gossip

Breaking Ranks, a Political Memoir


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Norman Podhoretz is not a glamorous figure. He tells us that Saul Bellow, soon after the publication of his first novel, received a call from Hollywood. He assumed that they were after the screen rights, but it turned out that it was his profile (on the back of the jacket), not his prose, which had gulled the moguls. Podhoretz assures us that his own picture, flatteringly taken for a Time magazine Radical Round-Up in the early sixties, might have caused the same kind of stir in some West Coast front office. Well, the unyouthful face staring greyly from· the back end of Breaking Ranks would hardly be likely to catch the attention of anyone in area code 213, Los Angeles, unless they were looking for a hanging judge. What has happened to drain the stellar insouciance from our hero’s face? He has been, as his book explains, at the rough end of a long New York gang battle which has polarised the ‘intellectual community’. He has been shunned and blackguarded as the heavy in the piece, the man who has moved to the Right (and hence into the wrong) in the tight little world that contains Commentary and the New York Review of Books, not to mention the New Yorker, which pays better than either (but then who cares about the money?) and is usually too canny for overt political prises de position.

The editorial caucus of the NYRB remains as perennially chic as in the days of its revolutionary spring. Its influence runs well beyond the fuzzy pages where some cats are set among the pigeons, others belled. Jason Epstein, Podhoretz’s frère ennemi, is both its co-founder and the head of Random

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