Monday, March 5, 2018

‘I Should Have Made Him for a Dentist’

By Janet Malcolm

Norman Podhoretz’s memoir Making It was almost universally disliked when it came out in 1967. It struck a chord of hostility in the mid-twentieth-century literary world that was out of all proportion to the literary sins it may or may not have committed. The reviews were not just negative, but mean. In what may have been the meanest review of all, Wilfred Sheed, a prominent critic and novelist of the time, wrote:
In this mixture of complacency and agitation, he has written a book of no literary distinction whatever, pockmarked by clichés and little mock modesties and a woefully pedestrian tone…. Mediocrities from coast to coast will no doubt take Making It to their hearts and will use it for their own justification…. In the present condition of our society and the world, I cannot imagine a more feckless, silly book.
Even before the book was published it was an object of derision. Podhoretz’s friends urged him not to publish it, and his publisher shrank from it after reading the manuscript. Another publisher gamely took the book, but his gamble did not pay off. Word had spread throughout literary Manhattan about the god-awfulness of what Podhoretz had wrought. This and the reviews sealed the book’s fate. It was a total humiliating failure.
Making It was reissued last year by New York Review Books as one of its Classics, and the literary world—perhaps because it no longer exists—remained calm. Bookish people didn’t call each other up to exclaim about the scandal. Not many reviews appeared. And yet among those that did were some that in their nastiness might have been written in 1967. James Wolcott’s review in the London Review of Books was the longest and nastiest. It began with a quote from an entry in Alfred Kazin’s journal of 1963, in which Kazin wrote of a party he attended at the offices of Commentary magazine, of which Podhoretz was editor:
Read the rest here.

BTW, Since the first one went over so well, Podhoretz wrote a second memoir!
Be sure to read Murray Rothbard's review of  Podhoretz’s Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir, here.

 -Robert Wenzel 


  1. I had a subscription to Inquiry and read that Rothbard review when it came out. I'm pretty sure I have that issue in a big box in my attic. Great magazine. Great review.