I’m not going to be posting much today, but I did want to note the passing of the historian and biographer Michael Wreszin at the age of 85. Although Wreszin died on August 12, his family announced his death this past weekend, which is when the New York Times published its obituary of him.
Wreszin, who was a professor of history at Queens College, is best known for three biographies of iconoclastic American leftists: Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War (1965), The Superfluous Anarchist: Albert Jay Nock (1972), and A Rebel in Defense of Tradition: the Life and Politics of Dwight Macdonald (1992).
Although I consume a lot of biographies (and parts of many more), biography is not a genre that I’m naturally drawn to, either in my own work or in my reading for pleasure. So I am perhaps not the best person to hold forth on what makes for a good biography. Nonetheless, Wreszin’s biography of Macdonald remains one of my favorite biographies of an American intellectual. I approached the book having read a fair bit of Macdonald’s writings from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but knowing only the broadest outlines of his life. Wreszin brought Macdonald to life in a way that illuminated both the man and his work, as well as the broader worlds that he inhabited as, at various times, a Troskyist, a democratic socialist, a pacifist, an editor at Fortune, The Partisan Review, and politics, a New York intellectual, a film critic, and an activist. Having read Rebel in Defense of Tradition, I felt that I had really understood this peculiar and important thinker. And I can’t ask for more from a biography. I should add that it is also a very good read.
I never had the opportunity to meet Wreszin or even to hear him talk. Consider this an open thread for discussion of Michael Wreszin and his work.