Wicked Son

The Controversialist: Arguments with Everyone, Left Right and Center


From his deep involvement in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s to his almost forty years at the head of the New Republic, Martin Peretz traces his personal history alongside those of the cultural and political centers—Harvard, Wall Street, Washington—in which he was a key player for decades.

From 1974 to 2012, his years as publisher and editor-in-chief of the New Republic, Martin Peretz was a familiar presence on the political scene. In its time under his leadership, the magazine was always fresh, erudite, contrarian, and brave. Anyone interested in finding out the most distinctive expert takes on the issues that mattered—whether they be domestic or international, cultural or political—knew that the New Republic was required reading.

The Controversialist begins in a vibrant but tragedy-stricken community of Yiddish Jews in his native Bronx and takes Peretz, blessed with that rare trait of always being in the right place at the right time, into the same rooms as some of the most prominent writers, thinkers, businessmen, activists, and politicians of the twentieth century. Peretz’s insights into his relationships with these men and women—many of them his students, teachers, colleagues, friends, and, of course, enemies—are both original and illuminating.

Through his examination of the personalities, not least his own, at the center of the events that have defined the postwar and neoliberal decades, Peretz makes a rich and compelling argument for the ideals that have been the focus of his life: liberalism, democracy, and Zionism. In revisiting this rich life, he considers, too, what will come next now that those ideals are no longer assured.