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A Life in the Fray


A review of The Controversialist: Arguments with Everyone Left Right and Center by Martin Peretz, 351 pages, Wicked Son (July 2023)

In 1974, Martin Peretz purchased the New Republic magazine, which had been the preeminent weekly journal of liberal journalism and opinion in the United States since it was founded in 1914. The price was $380,000, roughly 2.3 million in 2023 dollars. Peretz served as the magazine’s publisher and guiding spirit until he sold it in 2011 as it faced financial pressures from “free news” on the Internet and the slow collapse of the liberal center in American politics and intellectual life. In those 37 years, Peretz used his money, political judgment, and intellectual engagement to support the kind of weekly journal that no longer exists in the wealthiest country in the world—that is, one deeply committed to the liberal tradition and willing to defend it against attacks from the Left as well as the Right.

In The Controversialist, Peretz offers us a frank and important account of his intellectual and political journey—his youth in the Yiddish-speaking Jewish neighborhoods of the Bronx, his college years at Brandeis University, five decades of engagement at Harvard University’s Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, nearly four decades at the helm of the New…

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