If “Making It” can make it there

The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal has posted my column on the restoration to print of Norman Podhoretz’s Making It by New York Review Books. With a nod to Kander and Ebb, I called it “If Making It can make it there.” By “there,” I mean the publisher of the new edition of Making It, which trashed it upon the original publication of the book 50 years ago. Now it rightly certifies the book as a classic.

Something’s happening here:

When it first appeared, Making It met with a publishing equivalent of a lynch mob. It included Podhoretz’s friends and fellow members of the New York literary/intellectual establishment, famously dubbed the “Family” by Murray Kempton. They found Podhoretz guilty of crimes against taste and discretion. For his part, Podhoretz forthrightly declared that he sought wealth and fame with the book; he harvested mostly condemnation. Though he has taken up the reaction to the book briefly in subsequent autobiographical reflections, he still finds the experience painful to discuss in print.

The New York Review of Books—under whose auspices the NYRB Classics series appears—set out to demolish the book. Its first choice to review Making It, the prominent critic Hilton Kramer, disliked the book, and was afraid he may have been overly harsh in the draft he submitted. “When I sent it on to the New York Review,” Kramer subsequently told Podhoretz biographer Thomas Jeffers, he was amazed to hear that “the New York Review wasn’t interested in publishing a ‘valentine’ to Norman Podhoretz!” Seeking something tougher still, the editors called on sociologist Edgar Z. Friedenberg (“whom Podhoretz had discovered for Commentary in 1960,” Jeffers dryly notes), who delivered the desired pan.

I am grateful to the editors of City Journal for publishing this New York-centric piece paying tribute to a great American autobiography. Please check out the whole thing here if you might find it of interest.

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