Norman Podhoretz’s Once-Controversial Memoir, 50 Years On

March 22 2017

The appearance in 1967 of Making It, Norman Podhoretz’s tale of coming to maturity in the world of the New York intellectuals—and of the naked ambition for fame and prestige that drove both him and them—created no small amount of controversy. Friends and mentors had discouraged him from publishing it in the first place, warm relationships turned cold, and the book met with decidedly harsh reviews. Yet reading Making It a half-century later—it has just been re-released by the publishing arm of the New York Review of Books, which had been among the journals to pan the first edition—Scott Johnson finds this reaction difficult to understand. The book itself, he reports, is no less compelling now than then:

Making It might have been titled The Education of Norman Podhoretz. The author traces his education from public school in the tough and impoverished Brownsville section of Brooklyn to college as a scholarship student at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Columbia set his “brain on fire.” He became the star student of the great literary critic Lionel Trilling and other prominent members of Columbia’s dazzling faculty. . . .

The book offers the enthralling coming-of-age story of Podhoretz’s rise to success in the heavily Jewish world of New York intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s—the lost world of [what Murray Kempton called the] “Family.” The Family was born in part from the break of Partisan Review—the legendary intellectual review whose founding editors were Philip Rahv and William Phillips—from the Communist party. The Partisan Review crowd married a commitment to left-wing anti-Stalinist politics with a devotion to modernist art and literature. Podhoretz joined the Family as a precocious member of its third and final generation. At just thirty in 1960, he was named Elliot Cohen’s successor as editor of Commentary, the magazine then sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. . .

Visiting Making It for the first time, or returning to it after many years, readers will find it evocative of another lost world, too—that of the Yiddish-speaking, East European immigrant Jews, which included Podhoretz’s literal family. He himself grew up speaking both Yiddish and heavily accented English. In the first chapter of Making It, Podhoretz describes the unforgettable Mrs. K., the high-school English teacher “who took it upon herself to polish me to as high a sheen as she could manage and I would permit.”

Read more at City Journal

More about: American Jewish Committee, American Jewry, History & Ideas, New York City, Norman Podhoretz


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy