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Running Commentary: The Contentious Magazine that Transformed the Jewish Left into the Neoconservative Right Hardcover – June 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former editor of Commentary, Balint introduces a guide of the magazine's evolution with a primary focus on Jewish history from WWI to the present, with parallel Commentary articles and writers providing crucial historical markers. The Holocaust gets extensive coverage, both through the eyes of its victims and of Commentary's editors and writers, complete with early critiques of the ignorance that created and fed the WWII machine. Balint ties the growth of the magazine to the influx of Jews to America following that war. As refuges built new communities, Commentary widened its focus from the Jewish religion, printing articles that expressed pride in Judaism and patriotism for America, making it acceptable for Jewish immigrants, who were ready to shed the past because of the extensive Nazi hatred, to embrace American culture while maintaining their Jewish identity and religion. Readers will appreciate this rare behind-the-scenes look into a prolific magazine that helped provide a positive outlet and shape a new community after an unthinkable atrocity. END


Walter Laqueur
"Commentary was founded soon after World War II as a magazine of ‘Jewish interest’ but its impact reached well beyond the community. For decades it has been the most admired and most hated, but also perhaps the most influential periodical of its character and size. Benjamin Balint’s fine, well written book is far more than a history, it is an important, in fact essential contribution to American cultural and political life during the second half of the last century. It is the most important work of its kind published for years.”

Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University
“In this eloquent and richly informed book, Benjamin Balint both tells the story of COMMENTARY as a magazine and reads it as an ‘American Talmud’--a great mass of position statements and debates, always passionate and sometimes contradictory, that illuminate the larger intellectual history of America's Jews.”

Daphne Merkin
"Benjmain Balint's history of Commentary magazine is nothing less than a history of the intellectual life of Jews in America as they go from being cultural outsiders to being consummate insiders. It is written with enormous verve, capturing the many colorful characters who created and shaped a publication that was unlike anything the American-Jewish reading community had seen before. Balint's judicious, non-partisan account doesn't miss a shift in the political landscape, whether on the Left or on the Right, and he has an uncanny ability to steer clear of apologetics or screeds. This is intellectual history as it should be written: lucid, capacious and unfailingly readable."

Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2010
“[An] acutely perceptive account...As Mr. Balint’s book shows so vividly, Commentary made—and continues to make—an invaluable contribution to the politics and culture of our time.”

Huntington News (WV), June 4, 2010
"A lively, accessible history of the magazine… Running Commentary was eye-opening to me and I recommend it as not only the story of Commentary, but as a brief history of the post-World War II leftist movement and the rise of neoconservatism.”
New York Times Book Review, August 1, 2010
“The story of American Judaism’s growing self-confidence—its increasing willingness to defend itself as well as its move from the periphery to the center of cultural and political power in the United States—is the unifying thread of Benjamin Balint’s beautifully written and richly researched history of Commentary …By placing the man and the magazine in this broader context, Balint, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former assistant editor at Commentary, manages to strike just the right balance between respectful admiration and critical distance. The result is the best book to date about neoconservativism—and one offering far greater insight into the mind and career of Norman Podhoretz than Jeffers’s obsequious biography.”
Huffington Post, July 6, 2010
“Author Benjamin Balint, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, is adept at political inside baseball; he neatly recalls the mood, circumstances and passion of pre- and postwar political life… Balint is fair-minded, pointing out contradictions in both Left and Right, while eloquently chronicling the thinkers and events that defined this singular review.” 
Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2010
“A surprising account of how Commentary steered neoconservatism to the height of power while leading it intellectually astray.”
American Conservative, July 2010
“Yet his book is neither apologia nor hagiography. It explores its subject with both real familiarity and a critical distance all the more refreshing for being unexpected… Balint's illumination of some of the magazine's internal gears, especially the role of Neal Kozodoy, who worked as Podhoretz's right hand from the 1960s to 1995, when he took over as editor, is especially valuable.”, May 24, 2010
“Balint’s expert recounting of goings on at the magazine is both a tad gossipy— with dissections of personality and editorial conflicts — and historically informative, as what happens to the magazine is unavoidably tied up with sea changes in the Jewish social, literary and political world.”
Providence Journal, June 20, 2010
“Benjamin Balint’s vividly honest account of the transformation of Commentary from an obscure but influential Jewish leftist intellectual magazine to an incubator of neo-conservatism embodies the political winds that have tossed American public opinion around for decades.”
Democracy, A Journal of Ideas, summer 2010
“An enlightening and sympathetic history of the magazine”
Jewish Book World, Fall 2010
“In meticulous detail, Balint traces the steps by which this influential and paradoxically anti-intellectual monthly reconfigured itself from a post-World War II voice of liberalism to a post-Sixties voice of conservatism…Balint explores the rich complexity of this transition, including its connection with changing attitudes toward Israel, offering colorful portraits of the key members of The Family and their intricate, shifting relationships.”
Jerusalem Post, August 21, 2010
“In Running Commentary, Benjamin Balint, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and former assistant editor at Commentary, provides a sympathetic, but remarkably thorough, dispassionate and balanced history of the magazine, tracing its twists and turns from liberal anti-communism in the 1950s to a dalliance, of sorts, with radicals in the 1960s, to neoconservatism in the 1970s and beyond.

Standpoint Magazine (UK), September 2010
“Balint's riveting history of Commentary magazine is much more than an account of an influential publication. It is a chronicle of what has happened since the Second World War to American society."

Moment, October 2010
“Intellectually shrewd and tonally astute.”

Commentary Magazine, November 2010
“The book is far more friendly, intelligent, and elegantly written, and having been informed by the author’s term of employment at this magazine possesses some of the virtues and defects of any insider account. There is copious detail, even about familiar episodes, since unprecedented access was granted to the magazine archives. But there is also a persistently elegiac tone meant to convey the sense that Commentary’s best days are irrevocably behind it."
CHOICE, November 2010
“Balint had written a penetrating political and critical history of the magazine and the magazine’s ‘family.’… Highly recommended."
Jerusalem Report, November 22, 2010
“In this refreshingly impartial examination of one of the 20th century’s most influential magazines that gave America novel insights into politics, culture and literature, Balint, himself a former assistant editor at Commentary who has written both for Haaretz and the Wall Street Journal, paints with precise brush strokes a nuanced and honest picture, offering readers a comprehensive study of an important chapter of Jewish American intellectual history. In prose as vivid as it is elegant, Balint proves himself worthy of Commentary’s stylistic and intellectual heritage.”
Journal of American History, January 2011
"This will be the standard history of Commentary for many years and a model of how to write the history of an intellectual journal."


Shofar, Summer 2011
“An exceptionally well written book that describes with enthusiasm the major transformation identified in the subtitle. It is a thoughtful analysis of American intellectual and ideological history from the 1920s to 2009…. Balint’s thoroughly researched book is an example of very solid American intellectual history. But it is more: it provides real insights into the nature of post-World War II American political history…. An especially interesting and important intellectual history, Benjamin Balint’s Running Commentary is highly recommended.”
n+1, October 6, 2011
“Former Commentary editor Benjamin Balint’s admiring but not hagiographic history of the magazine, Running Commentary, helps shed light on [the neoconservative] trajectory, which was more a story of continuity than of change…One of the virtues of Balint’s account is that it punctures the widespread enthrallment with Podhoretz… Balint complicates the standard left-to-right account of the magazine’s trajectory by showing how central hawkish anti-Communism was to it from the beginning.”



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487493
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487492
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,084,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bobster on February 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
There are many good things one can say about Benjamin Balint's Running Commentary, and only one negative---which, though it certainly affects the whole work, still makes for an informative, smart read.

Running Commentary is graceful & well-written, thoroughly researched, informative, interesting (almost surprisingly so), and intelligent. It makes its case fairly [and sometimes very] well, that the sociopolitical development and maturation of Commentary's so-called Family is---sometimes as a microcosm, sometimes in the breach--very much the story of America's Jews and America's politics.

But there is, to be sure, a distinct, if sometimes subtle, vein of glum nostalgia for Commentary's glory days, which the author apparently sees as being decisively in the past---seemingly, the leftist/radical/liberal past...
Though the author seems okay with Commentary's embrace of Israel, there's a faint tone of snark in descriptions of Podhoretz's evolving statements, beliefs & convictions over the years. As for the recent era of John Podhoretz, jr., Balint tells precious little, other than to quote others who had nothing kind to say about Commentary in the present. Some of the changes Podhoretz, Jr. brought about could certainly be called questionable--most notably the inclusion of a wretched Yiddish-joke feature and the deletion of the book reviews section (replaced with D.J. Myers' fine column about books, but that's not the same as individual, comprehensive essays by different reviewers)...

But without any larger context at all---examples of the magazine's intellectual status represented by other pieces during this period, of how Commentary stayed the [previously established] course on Israel, domestic policies, foreign affairs, etc.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joshua M. Normand on October 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In Running Commentary, Benjamin Balint chronicles the history of the Jewish Magazine, Commentary, and its shift from a Leftist magazine to a Neoconservative one. In its early years, as Jews were starting out in America and identified with FDR and the New Deal, Commentary was for the New Deal and the Democratic Agenda. As times have changed, so has Commentary. I heartily recommend this book.
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13 of 21 people found the following review helpful By laurel on June 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best examples of intellectual history I can remember reading--it's a page-turner, I couldn't put it down. Deftly written and entertaining, it's both even-handed and sharp-eyed about the personalities and politics of the journal up to the present. The story goes far beyond Commentary though, Balint begins with the arrival of Jews in America and sketches the political and intellectual trajectory of successive generations with lively acuity; his range of historical and political knowledge is stunning. Let me add that I'm neither a reader nor a fan of Commentary! But this book paints a fascinating picture of 20th century intellectual life and of the "New York Intellectuals", full of amazing tidbits--it was Podhoretz who plucked Philip Roth's first short story out of the slush pile and published it, for instance. Who knew? The journal's decline into intellectual and literary sclerosis as it moved rightward is well-told; Balint makes the interesting point that the commitment to exporting so-called American freedoms around the world increasingly stopped at the journal's own threshold, the imaginative, challenging writing of the early years sacrificed to tow the neo-con party-line.
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By maureen sherman on October 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
ordered by my husband.
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