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Ex Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer Paperback – July 1, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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"If you like gossip, you'll adore Ex-Friends," columnist Liz Smith has said. And, boy, does archconservative Norman Podhoretz's account of his bitter splits with important American intellectuals rollick. See Norman Mailer, whom critic Podhoretz gave a crucial early boost, get naked and attempt a three-way with his girlfriend and Podhoretz! (Podhoretz tried orgies, pot, and speed, but hated them as much as Kerouac's and Bellow's novels). Hear Mailer's tale after he stabbed his wife almost to death and ran straight to Podhoretz's place! Thrill as critic Allen Tate challenges editor William Barrett to a death-duel over Ezra Pound's Bollingen Award! As Woody Allen said of the literati Podhoretz calls "the Family," "They only kill their own."

Ex-Friends is a nifty if one-sided sketch of the intellectual gang wars, and it captures people more two-faced than does a Cubist painting. After ideas, writes Podhoretz, the Family's second passion was "gossiping with the wittiest possible malice about anyone who had the misfortune not to be present." Podhoretz only discovered Hannah Arendt's faked friendship by reading the published letters of Arendt and Mary McCarthy, and he nails her for her German chauvinism and impenetrable arrogance. He trashes Allen Ginsberg, who published Podhoretz's first poem, for Ginsberg's outrageous grandstanding, and because homosexuality outrages him. He liked Lillian Hellman partly because she gave glamorous parties, and stomps her for loyalty to Stalin's party and her prose ("an imitation of Hammett's imitation of Hemingway"). He skewers many besides the celebs in his subtitle, including Joseph Heller, whose Catch-22 he helped make a hit. He won Jackie Onassis's affection by returning her put-down with a quick "F--- you," like the Brooklyn street tough he was and remains. Mailer betrayed him for not getting him invited to Jackie's party.

The Family had big ideas--and, as Podhoretz proves, egos as big as thin-skinned dodo eggs. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The subtitle is an impressive list, and in the process of recalling his quarrels, most of which naturally revolved around matters political and literary, Podhoretz sheds a great deal of light on relationships within "the Family"?that is, the mostly Jewish New York intellectual establishment of the 1950s and '60s. Podhoretz, even before he became editor of Commentary in 1958, was very much a part of the group and at first shared many of its radical ideas. As he became a family man (lower case), the Cold War heated up and the '60s youth rebellion turned many of his newly acquired values on their head. He moved rapidly to the right, to the point where he is now mockingly referred to by many on the left as "the Frother." Still, pace his many critics, he remains a lively writer, and these accounts of relationships gone awry are a fine blend of polemics and sharp character sketches. If it is difficult to imagine today's Podhoretz wandering the midnight streets in a haze of alcoholic good fellowship with Jack Kerouac or helping Mailer hide from the police after he had stabbed his wife, he assures us that these events took place. Podhoretz's position throughout is that, although he always began in admiration of his friends' imagination and vitality, their moral, political or aesthetic excesses eventually forced a rift. In Podhoretz's view, he had "finally come to my senses after a decade of experimenting with radical ideas that were proving dangerous to me and destructive to America." Although he concludes that "I much prefer who I am to what I was," Podhoretz concedes, elegiacally, that he misses the sense of shared community and excitement he once knew with so many notable ex-friends.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; Reprint edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554171
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554177
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on May 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Norman Podhoretz is one of the most important American intellectuals of the Post- War period. His shift away from the Left toward a Conservative position helped mark a new period in American intellectual life. In this memoir he writes about the ' friends' of a former time, each of whom is a distinguished 'name' by themselves. Allen Ginsberg, Hannah Arendt, the Trillings, Lionel and Diana, Lillian Hellman and Norman Mailer. Podhoretz blends the personal anecodote with the ideological quarrel in explaining his estrangement from these friends. At one point he talks about how their radical indulgence in their own appetites led to a kind of moral chaos which he understood as destructive and damaging.

There is a question raised by many readers of the morality of turning on old friends in this way, and writing as if one were the only righteous man among a bunch of misguided moral morons. Other readers point out the possible envy motive given the fact that all the people he writes about are probably considered by most to be more important ' creative figures ' than him. Certainly Arendt, and Mailer fit this category.

Podhoretz however should not be underestimated and he as a critic , and as a moral and literary guide is a person of considerable weight and stature. I would not say that everything here suits my taste, but there is a great deal of interesting writing about the intellectual life of the American fifties, and of some of its major characters.
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Format: Paperback
Norman Podhoretz was a New York intellectual in the 1950's-60's, once editor of Commentary magazine. A left-leaning writer then, in the early 70's he began leaning right and became one of the "founding fathers" of neoconservatism. He was an anti-Communist who rebelled against the anti-American bent of the 60's radicals. (The thought of Jane Fonda all decked out in her love beads sitting down with the North Vietnamese leadership to trash all things American still gives neocons the heebie-jeebies.)

This was when he began breaking with old friends, such as the ones named in the book's title. Most of these people (taken from Podhoretz's viewpoint) are not very pleasant. (Is there anything more vicious than an intellectual scorned?) But Podhoretz is very much on the defensive, and like the "lady who protests too much," makes the reader wary. Whether you go along with his politics or not, I thought it was a pretty interesting book anyway.
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Format: Hardcover
I recently have become familiar with Norman Podhoretz through his essays in Commentary Magazine and was thrilled to find out that this new book was on the stands. Having just finished it, I am happy to say that the fulfillment is as great as the anticipation.
Mr. Podhoretz views on the recent intellectual and political history of the US (and broader) is brought forth through enlightening essays on these "Liberal Minds." His ability to enlighten me about the lives and the views of his subjects, as well as his own views, through his wonderfully clear and readable prose, is a blessing.
His views have made me think and rethink my own views and I look forward to hours of conversation with my own friends about the book itself.
Only one thing, while I understand Mr. Podhoretz' view that strong belief in contrary systems can lead to the breakup of friendships, I sincerely hope his book provides fertile ground for the cementing of new ones, rather than the breakup of old.
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The book is interesting in that it deals with famous members of mid-century intelligencia, but it also explores the nuances of political thought happening among members of the left in that time period. Also interesting is the fact that Podhoretz had his falling out with people sometimes for reasons other than his right-wing conversion in the 1970s and 1980s.
The book is quite good at explaining the subtle differences in opinion among left-wing American intellectuals of the time. Almost everyone had trifled with Communism or fellow travelerism, but out of that start grew many different points of view that Norman and his Ex-Friends would argue about again and again. Being philosophical writers, they would tend to explore many different avenues from one another. It's a wonder that any two writers remain life-long friends.
I grew less interested in these characters as the book progressed though. The pattern gave me the "heard it once, heard it a thousand times" feeling. By Hannah Arendt, I was tired from a long journey. But not because Mr. Podhoretz isn't a fine writer, he most certainly is. Only, I'll be ready for another subject matter from him next time around.
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Well, opinions & relationships do change. This is a record of re-evaluation & commentary from someone who has earned the credentials to comment.
Refreshing in its bluntness, this a tonic for those who seek to explain changes of heart & mind.Otherwise, judgmental and self serving. But worth the read--my third.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting for this book for years. I am in my early thirties, and have lived enough life to know that people like Ginsberg did perhaps irreparable damage to this country. I know for a fact that his literary ilk made an impression on me, as a young man. I had the miserable experience, in fact, of trying to be a liberal for far too many years. The "antinomianism" that Podhoretz talks about in his chapter on Ginsberg is appealing, dangerously so, in the very fact that it allows for a complete break-down of discipline, whether that be discipline in art or in the way one lives one's life. President Clinton is a perfect example of this. Most of the people in my generation take antinomianism one step further--integrating the undisciplined elements with elements of what appear to be a "normalcy" (tattoos, piercings, promiscuous sexual encounters and profanity are de rigueur at most places of work inhabited by my generation. But contrary to popular imagination, my generation works quite hard, as I suppose, does Clinton). We have reached an age when MTV shows middle-teens in the midst of soft-porn "undressing."
The attendent nihilism that goes along with this break-down of mores and loss of virtue is far, far worse than someone like Podhoretz could imagine, I think, as he did not inherit these things. Nonetheless, his job at hand was to speak of his ex-friends, and he does so without pulling any punches. Allen Ginsburg is hit hardest, and deservedly so. Surely, it was the fame of men like Ginsburg who helped set the trend toward perversity in literature and in the media in general. Once nasty stuff like this makes its way into the vernacular, Pandora's Box is opened.
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