THE PLANK NOVEMBER 3, 2008
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Studs Terkel died on Friday at the age of 96. He's been widely memorialized as, in Editor & Publisher's phrase, "The great Studs Terkel--author, radio journalist, activist, Chicago institution, terrific listener." Twenty years ago in The New Republic, Jacob Weisberg, now chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, was not quite as impressed with the legendary oral historian. We've dug up his review of Terkel's 1988 best-seller The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream. After noting that many admirers compard Terkel to Diogenes of Athens, Weisberg writes:
That comparison is monumentally inapt.The skepticism about his fellow citizens that characterized the Diogenes of Athens is antithetical to the faith in the average man professed by this Diogenes of the Windy City in a red-checked shirt. Terkel can hardly find a dishonest man for trying. He lives by a Progressive belief in the intrinsic goodness and decency of most people, which doesn't appear to unsettle his dogmatic insistence that American society is bigoted, ignorant, and greedy. Terkel loves Americans and loathes America.