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Journalists aren't held in the greatest esteem these days. Too many are insiders, value a scoop over all else, or are too cowardly to spurn accepted thought. Not Nat Hentoff. Hentoff is the kind of reporter (and citizen) all reporters should aspire to be--"less interested in 'exclusives,'" as he writes in Speaking Freely, than "in making a difference." Speaking Freely is Hentoff's chronicle of a career's worth of making a difference, writing unexpectedly--for a self-proclaimed Jewish atheist civil-libertarian--about everything from Vietnam and Israel to abortion and John Cardinal O'Connor to the Nation of Islam and the ACLU. Hentoff recalls a Village Voice that presented "a forceful diversity of views" and a New Yorker shaped by revered editor William Shawn. Speaking Freely is an inspiring memoir from a man proud to have been called, by one editor, "a general pain in the ass."
From Library Journal
In a continuation of his well-received memoir, Boston Boy (LJ 3/15/86), Hentoff tells here the story of his life as a writer in New York. Hentoff started out writing about jazz in the 1950s and went on to write about his other interests, mainly civil liberties and education. In this book he reveals more about his years in the jazz world, but mostly he focuses on his involvement in the Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. During that time he was also writing about these events for the Village Voice and later the New Yorker. Over the years, Hentoff has gained a reputation as an honest and outspoken defender of civil liberties. Though he occasionally comes across as a bit self-righteous, on balance this is an interesting and thoughtful book. Recommended for journalism and popular culture collections.?Rebecca Wondriska, Trinity Coll. Lib., Hartford, Ct. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This book is a very good account of how Nat Hentoff went from writing about Jazz to civil liberties issues for the Village Voice.
Mr Hentoff is quite a unique individual.
He has been called "the Anti-Christ" by Rev Lewis Farrakhan, "an unpredictable civil libertarian" by the ACLU (which he later resigned from), an "enslaver of women" by supporters of abortion rights (because of his opposition to abortion), a "dangerous defender of alleged pornography" by anti-porn feminists and has even raised the eyebrows of Cardinal John O'Connor because he is Jewish but is also an atheist.
I felt Hentoff gave interesting insights about the issues he wrote about with honesty and affection.
Although, I disagree with his opposition to abortion (he does, however, oppose criminalizing the procedure), opposition to euthenasia and support for mandatory AIDS tests for babies, I thought this book was very well written.
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Nat Hentoff is a delightful oddity - that old-fashioned leftist who's not afraid to take on the Establishment Left. Thus, small minds to the left of center absolutely hate him - much as they hated Orwell, Camus and de Beauvoir, and for the same reasons: He won't toe the line. (The Right, of course, simply chooses to ignore him ... or more likely can't understand him.) In this second installment of his ongoing autobiography, Hentoff's love of jazz is again front and center - there has never been a better chronicler of jazz, and if Hentoff's prose is a bit more stilted than his favorite musicians, he still captures that sense of life that jazz embodies. An unapologetic integrationist, Hentoff is also one of the most color-blind individuals you will ever read. Reading this book also brings you to a realization that Hentoff opposes abortion for the exact same reason he opposes the death penalty - it is a consistent ethos, even if the Left (such as it is these days) finds itself compelled to try to silence him. If you despair of the left ever finding its way again, if you feel dismayed by the increasing conformity of American liberals, then read this book.
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In writing his memoirs, a journalist has an advantage over a civilian, in having a record of his life. And where Nat Hentoff's notebooks left off, his FBI files provided items he'd forgotten, such as the name of the haberdashery where, at age 11, he'd had his first job, and some which he'd never known, such as his parents' Russian birthplaces. A Village Voice and Washington Post columnist, and the author of some 40 non-fiction and fiction books for adults and children, the catholicity of Nat Hentoff's interests and his career of taking gutsy stands have made him an institution in a profession pervaded by mediocrity and conformity. Hentoff's atheism, his support of trade unions and flag burners, and his quaint faith in school integration that most American blacks no longer believe in make him look like your standard-issue liberal. Yet the same man defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, opposes abortion, and has fought against a purported "right of privacy" that would allow women to dispose of children born with birth defects. It is no wonder that many of Hentoff's colleagues at the Village Voice have stopped speaking to him. The sequel to Hentoff's 1987 memoir Boston Boy, which told of his "exuberantly anti-Semitic hometown," Speaking Freely briskly covers his 50-plus years in journalism with a wry, self-deprecating humor that his columns and First Amendment books often lack. Hentoff enjoyed early success writing on jazz for Down Beat magazine, whose New York office he ran. In 1956, he got fired. It seems he had hired a "black" secretary without getting permission from the home office in Chicago. The magazine, which was devoted to black music, had never hired a black staffer.Read more ›
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In these pages, Mr. Hentoff relentlessly promotes himself, without even attempting to reconcile his contradictory positions. He's the great civil libertarian, yet apparently he believes that women have no civil rights where there own bodies are concerned! He shamelessly flatters the late Cardinal O'Connor, completely distorting the latter's record on gay issues. I used to like Nat Hentoff's writings, but somewhere along the line, he took a wrong turn, and became a fawning sycophant of the right wing.