cover of book

Max Lerner: Pilgrim in the Promised Land
by Sanford Lakoff
University of Chicago Press, 1998
Cloth: 978-0-226-46831-0
Library of Congress Classification JC251.L44L35 1998
Dewey Decimal Classification 320.5092

Max Lerner was a gifted writer and educator whose passion for life made him anything but an ivory tower recluse. In public a prominent commentator and college professor, in his private life he was a romantic adventurer, pursuing erotic relationships with unflagging zeal. He had two marriages (and six children) and became a close friend and frequent guest of Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion West. One of his liaisons was with Elizabeth Taylor—who fondly referred to him as "my little professor." Max Lerner recounts the life and times of this fascinating figure of "the American century."

Politically, Lerner went through a series of metamorphoses. During the 1930s, he was an anti-fascist "popular front progressive" writing for the Nation and the New Republic. From the 1940s through the 1970s, he became the country's leading liberal columnist—first with the lively but short-lived PM, then for the New York Post. In the 1980s, however, he was repelled by the New Left and the counterculture and joined the ranks of the neoconservatives, scandalizing some readers but insisting he owed it to them to tell the truth as he saw it.

This riveting biography begins with Lerner's own gripping account of the hardships his family endured in emigrating from Russia and his own boyhood triumphs and frustrations. Sanford Lakoff traces Lerner's American pilgrimage from his education at Yale, where he felt the bitter sting of anti-Semitism, through his years as a radical inspired by Thorstein Veblen, into mellower maturity as a widely read columnist, an inspiring teacher, the author of America as a Civilization, a much-loved father, and—to the end—an unapologetic romantic, who liked to say that he never learned anything worth knowing except from women.

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