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Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (The Modern Jewish Experience) Hardcover – November 5, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0253007278 ISBN-10: 0253007275

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Product Details

  • Series: The Modern Jewish Experience
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (November 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253007275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253007278
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,080,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review



"Intriguing... Fast's life becomes an excellent prism through which to view... leftist activity... along with the anticommunism hysteria of the 1940s and '50s... [A] notable study of a thorny protagonist whose life has much to reveal... about the interplay of political belief, personal identity, art, and ambition." - Publishers Weekly

"Gerald Sorin tells Fast's story in this engaging and fluidly written biography. He draws connections among Fast's Jewishness, his writings, and that most curious part of his life: his long embrace of the Communist Party.... Sorin is a brilliant biographer who proves to be both sympathetic and critical of his subject. This is Sorin's second National Jewish Book Award. He won in the category of history for his Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, in 2003." -- Jewish Book World

"The volume's strength is its explication and analysis of the complex social and political context of Fast's activism and creative work. Sorin judiciously juxtaposes sources from Fast's journalism, political speeches, correspondence, and testimony by colleagues and critics with late-1940s and 1950s American anticommunist hysteria.... Sorin's lengthy critique of Fast's adherence to Communism long after most American writers and intellectuals had abandoned the party, and his shameful public silence on Stalin's crimes and Soviet anti-Semitism, are of significant import." Choice April 2013

"Fame-hungry, wealth-obsessed, with a voracious appetite for women, bestselling author Howard Fast rose from the hardscrabble streets of his 1920s New York childhood to become a popular author and, perhaps more improbably, ‘the public face of the Communist Party in America.’ In Sorin's intriguing if dense new biography, Fast's life becomes an excellent prism through which to view the history of leftist activity in the years straddling WWII, along with the anticommunism hysteria of the 1940s and '50s.... A notable study of a thorny protagonist whose life has much to reveal about the times in which he lived and about the interplay of political belief, personal identity, art, and ambition." —Publishers Weekly



"Sorin brings Fast's personality to life in a way that is both sympathetic and critical. The narrative is fluid and engaging." —Tony Michels, author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York



"An intriguing biography, not least for its examination of how Fast interwove his political activism, his Jewishness and his art during the heyday of McCarthyism. Recommended." —Recorder (Melbourne)



"Sorin... has written a heavily researched critical biography of Fast... The volume's strength is its explication and analysis of the complex social and political context of Fast's activism and creative work.... Sorin's lengthy critique of Fast's adherence to Communism long after most American writers and intellectuals had abandoned the party, and his shameful public silence on Stalin's crimes and Soviet anti-Semitism, are of significant import.... Recommended.
" —Choice



"An engaging account of Fast that pays attention not only to his politics but also to his writings.... It should stimulate discussion of the appeal of Communism for some American Jews in the mid-20th century." —Deborah Dash Moore, coeditor of Gender and Jewish History

About the Author

Gerald Sorin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of American and Jewish Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is author of Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, winner of the 2003 National Jewish Book Award in History and The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880-1920 (IUP, 1985).


More About the Author

Gerald Sorin is a Distinguished Professor of American and Jewish Studies at SUNY New Paltz whose writings suggest that although we currently lack the moral and political will to take care of one another in the fullest sense, social progress proceeds in an ebb and flow of advancement and regression. He won the National Jewish Book Award for History in 2003 with his book Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, and again in 2012 for Biography with his latest book, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane. The Fast book also won a Silver Medal for Biography from IPPY, the Independent Publishers Association.

Customer Reviews

This is biography at its best: engaging, accessible, coherent, and well researched.
JohnD
He manages to maintain a clear and readable style without sacrificing the complexity of many of the situations Fast got himself embroiled in.
Jonathan Fast
They were sadly mistaken and blind to the realities of Stalin's crimes, but they have some legitimate rationalizations, if not excuses.
Andy of Minnesota

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Ben Avi on December 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All my life, people here and there have fawned over me because of the enormous impact my father had on them, because of the way he changed their lives, because of his "great books".
For some, I have been told, "there was Abraham Lincoln and your father."

Here is truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, written in fluid and flawless prose. Searing, sometimes scathing, but still wonderful because it unravels the messy knot of contradictions and fictions of which I and others who knew Howard Fast constantly tried to make sense.

I come away from reading Sorin's biography, with this as the best I can think of my once very famous father: that he did have a profound and positive effect on many many people. People who didn't know any better, but still....
And too, he had an almost superhuman amount of energy and the kind of drive that I've always wished that I had. And nerve, did he have nerve.

But he revered one of the worst tyrants in history. And that raises the whole Leni Riefenstahl question about whether or not one can separate the art from the artist. She took great pictures.
But that's a whole other conversation.

Gerry Sorin's book is a tour de force. I am awed, really, about how he did what he did, which is to nail my Father so perfectly without ever having met him. Sorin did that in this wonderful book that took him over seven years to research and write; talking to and communicating via email with so many of us both in and out of the family; reading every letter, book, article, transcript he could get his hands on. I knew, when I began the book, that I did not know much that my father had kept hidden, or secret, or about which he had lied in various ways. But I truly did not have the real and whole picture of the man.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By mike eskimo on November 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a heavily researched and well documented biography of Howard Fast. For this reviewer, the best part is when the author uses Fast's communist involvement in the late 40s and early 50s to expertly discuss and describe a yeasty pastiche of leftists, communists, liberals, anti-communists, demagogues, and a general conformist social milieu. If further discussion of the U.S. Communist party's intellectual corruption and human venality is needed, Sorrin's book provides it.
Howard Fast, himself, appears to have been extremely narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, histrionic, and self-pitying, but also managed to be a prolific authors. It became tedious, at times, to read 60+ adult years of example after example of these qualities manifested, offset by very few prosocial personality traits.This tedium is not Sorrin's
shortcoming, but it presents the interesting problem of how does one write an extensive biography of an uninteresting and shallow person without losing the reader.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a deeply thoughtful work, meticulously researched, displaying a nuanced analysis of Howard Fast’s accomplishments, his effect on, and response to, left wing political thought, his personality, character, ambition, self deception-- and yes his cruelty. The larger issue of the Jewish left and the attraction of Communism is explained here by Sorin better than anything else I’ve read on the subject. By skillfully navigating, examining, and analyzing the many shades of gray that informed Howard Fast’s complex life, Sorin has rounded out this difficult subject and done a real service.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kate on June 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I am not a fan of Fast's writing, but picked this up to learn more about the place the Communist Party played in our American system. The author appears to very even handily described the thinking of an ideologue. There are lessons here that apply to extremes both to the right and left; when people buy into any dogma, they become trapped in it.
I always felt that "communist" ideology could only work in very small and self-contained groups, and was an utterly failed system as it runs so counter to human nature. In my mind it worked only in a setting like a Covent, where nuns work in concert for a stated purpose, and this communal effort can only be managed because all have taken vows of humility and blind obedience to their order and Mother Superior. Obviously whether I consider communism, fascism and similar dogmas they all seek to impose a level of purity of thought in relationship to what "the leader" deems appropriate...and therefore never seems to be a workable system.
It is easy to understand given the economic times and the realities of the working poor and bare subsistance level of peasants that people who saw injustice in Colonial, Imperalist systems, and the exceeding greed and corruption of capitalist systems would be attracted to ideas of a system that would assist the plight of the majority of those suffering.
What is interesting is how Fast was drawn into the Party not from some of the deep concerns of typical worker-members, but because he was attracted to those at the top of the American Communist Party who were wealthy and well connected. That he could buy into a Stalin led system and clung to the party line and rationalize the violence and anti-Semitism that destroyed more lives than even Hitler's racist theories by two fold, is astonishing.
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