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Monday, August 3, 2020

Writers, Gone but Not Forgotten

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2018 saw the passing of a sweeping and diverse variety of important and admired writers.

Tom Wolfe, America’s most celebrated chronicler of our age, invented such neologisms as “New Journalism,” “The Me Generation” and “Radical Chic,” his takedown of the affluent for championing radical causes for fashion’s sake.

Wolfe’s novels and essays included “In Our Time,” “From Bauhaus to Our House,” “Hooking Up,” “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “The Right Stuff.” He died May 14 at 88.

He was one of a kind: an elegant, iconoclastic personality, a wit in white suits, and an observer whose prose inspired Hamptons social chatter and Hollywood movies.

Stan Lee died Nov. 12 in Los Angeles at 95. The co-creator of popular superheroes Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther and the X-Men, Lee became a comic-book legend and an active personality in promoting literacy.

Six other noteworthy writers and thinkers of particular interest to Jewish readers died this year.

Philip Roth challenged American Jews to confront their neuroses. Initially shunned by rabbis and other establishmentarians, his controversial novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” annoyed but eventually lasted as iconoclastic. Roth, who died May 22 at 85, rose to the top of the literary world, with a prolific outpouring of commentary on the American dream as well as troubling American reality.

Scholar Richard Pipes (died May 17) was the dean of American Sovietologists and a respected counselor to policy makers and analysts alike. His son Daniel has applied similar talent to documenting the Middle East.

A foremost thinker on the politics of Islam, Bernard Lewis, died May 19. Brave and brilliant, Lewis wrote prolifically on the variety and volatility of the Arab world.

More easily accessible to the general public was Charles Krauthammer, who offered erudite political commentary in The Washington Post and on Fox News. A former speechwriter for former Sen. and Vice President Walter Mondale, Krauthammer (died June 21) became enamored of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential campaign. 

Krauthammer asserted that classical liberalism (as opposed to creeping socialism or “Blame America First” leftism) was now better found in the GOP than the modern Democratic party.

Overcoming an injury while in medical school that left him in a wheelchair, Krauthammer advocated with civility, innate dignity and steadfast principles. He could disagree with President George W. Bush’s stem-cell research funding ban or with President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in a way that added light, not heat, to modern politics.

His 2013 autobiography was titled “Things That Matter.” Indeed.

Sharp comic relief was always welcomed in the plays of Neil Simon. Generations of Jewish and general audiences enjoyed his take on urban and urbane America.

Born July 4, 1927, Simon received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other playwright. He died Aug. 26 at 91.

A child of the Depression, and of parents who had a tempestuous marriage, Simon wrote of human relationships, and of likable and real people, finding humor in sad situations. Generations of audiences enjoyed “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Plaza Suite,” “California Suite” and “The Goodbye Girl,” among his many other Broadway productions.

Amos Oz, Israel’s most famous literary author, was born in Jerusalem in 1939. His mother committed suicide when Amos was 12. Deeply literate, Oz wrote short stories, fiction and nonfiction to wide acclaim and honors. His works included “Black Box,” “In the Land of Israel” and “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a 2002 memoir that was also adapted into a film.

Oz (died Dec. 28) was a kibbutznik, an Israel Defense Forces veteran and a professor who became deeply active in left-wing Israeli political causes, advocating for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also harshly criticized Hamas for being a fanatical organization and was appalled at the use of “human shields” by terrorists.

Other notable deaths in 2018 included famed physicist Stephen Hawking, celebrated Mexican author Sergio Pitol, British novelists Evelyn Anthony and Penny Vincenzi, horror writer Jack Ketchum, science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin, best-selling novelist Anita Shreve, popular children’s author Richard Peck, dynamic food writers Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold, TV titan Steven Bochco, screenwriter William Goldman, and Walter Skold, founder of the Dead Poets Society of America.


Larry Greenfield is a fellow at the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

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