American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone

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Popular Front columnist and New Deal propagandist. Fearless opponent of McCarthyism and feared scourge of official liars. Enterprising, independent reporter and avid amateur classicist. As D.D. Guttenplan puts it in his compelling book, I.F. Stone did what few in his profession could—he always thought for himself. America's most celebrated investigative journalist himself remains something of a mystery, however. Born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia, raised in rural New Jersey, by the age of 25 this college ...

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American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone

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Overview

Popular Front columnist and New Deal propagandist. Fearless opponent of McCarthyism and feared scourge of official liars. Enterprising, independent reporter and avid amateur classicist. As D.D. Guttenplan puts it in his compelling book, I.F. Stone did what few in his profession could—he always thought for himself. America's most celebrated investigative journalist himself remains something of a mystery, however. Born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia, raised in rural New Jersey, by the age of 25 this college drop-out was already an influential newsman, and enjoying extraordinary access to key figures in New Deal Washington and the friendship of important artists in New York.

It is Guttenplan’s wisdom to see that the key to Stone’s achievements throughout his singular career—and not just in his celebrated I.F. Stone’s Weekly—lay in the force and passion of his political commitments. Stone’s calm, forensic, yet devastating reports on American politics and institutions sprang from a radical faith in the long-term prospects for American democracy.

His testimony on the legacy of American politics from the New Deal and World War II to the era of the civil rights struggles, the Vietnam War, and beyond amounts to as vivid a record of those times as we are likely to have. Guttenplan's lively, provocative book makes clear why so many of his pronouncements have acquired the force of prophecy.

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Editorial Reviews

David Carr
In American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone, D. D. Guttenplan has written a comprehensive and rigorous portrait of an intellectual lone wolf, a crusading journalist who took the disregard of the mainstream as a taunt and carved out a place in American political life through relentlessness and a small, but mighty, weekly newsletter.
—The New York Times
Michael Kimmage
D.D. Guttenplan, a London correspondent for the Nation, offers a vividly written, avidly researched biography in American Radical.… Throughout his biography, Guttenplan emphasizes Stone's salience as a political thinker, not just as a talented, spirited journalist. He portrays Stone as a progressive unencumbered by party line, capable of criticizing the left and courageous enough to resist conservative repression.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

At his death, reporter and amateur classicist I.F. Stone was hailed as an "iconoclast of journalism," "a dogged investigator and a concise and clever writer," "an American institution" and "a journalist's journalist." At the same time, he was called wrongheaded and accused of being a KGB agent. In this sometimes workmanlike but often animated biography, Guttenplan (The Holocaust on Trial) provides a lively portrait of a journalist who was as passionate about radical politics and getting a story right as he was about ballroom dancing. Drawing on interviews with Stone's family and friends, the complete archive of Stone's writings-including fragments of letters-and two previous biographies of Stone, Guttenplan traces his subject's life and career from Stone's early upbringing as Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia and his days as a college dropout to his birth as one of America's premier journalists in the pages of the Nation, PM and eventually his own I.F. Stone's Weekly. A brilliant gadfly and independent thinker, Stone was at once cozy with New Deal politicians and union leaders. He reported undercover from Palestine as he accompanied Holocaust survivors through a British blockade and became a hero of America's Jews. Guttenplan's lively biography brings back to life a man whose work has often been forgotten but whose writing and life provide a model for the kind of freethinking journalism missing in society today. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The astonishingly assiduous professional life of I.F. Stone (1907-89), who covered stories from the Sacco and Vanzetti trials to the Iran-Contra affair and became an icon to investigative journalists. Born Isadore Feinstein in Philadelphia to a shopkeeper father, "Izzy" Stone came early to his profession, publishing a little newspaper as a youth. He never stopped writing. The Nation London correspondent Guttenplan (The Holocaust on Trial: History, Justice, and the David Irving Libel Case, 2001) begins on Dec. 12, 1949, when Stone appeared on Meet the Press as the Red Scare was about to explode. After debating the merits of national health insurance with Dr. Morris Fishbein, he didn't appear on television again for decades. Stone's radical positions in the McCarthy era ended one phase of his career-working for established journals-and began another: self-publishing I.F. Stone's Weekly, which endured-and sometimes thrived, especially during Vietnam-for nearly 20 years. As much social and cultural history as biography-Guttenplan offers little about Stone's personal life-the narrative serves as a textbook for those not alive during the Stone ages. The Depression, American Communism, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, the civil-rights movement, the Vietnam War, Israel and the Middle East, assassinations and political corruption and cultural characters of all sorts-these are all critical to an understanding of Stone's life and work. Guttenplan, who began the book in 1990, makes certain that readers know what and who they are before he proceeds. Though largely admiring of Stone-praise occasionally supersedes analysis-the author reveals that Stone was a tough man to work for; no employee,except his wife, lasted long. His loyalties to fact and the truth trumped just about everything else, friendship included. Prodigious research and a grateful heart inform this essential biography of an irreplaceable journalist.
The Barnes & Noble Review
There's nothing I like better than a good brawl, I. F. Stone once said. And throughout his long career, from his start as a newsman at a number of left-leaning urban papers to his 19 years publishing I. F. Stone's Weekly, the radical muckraker had his share of them. But Stone also once predicted, "I'm going to graduate from a pariah to a character, and then if I last long enough I'll be regarded as a national institution."

He did last long enough, and his biographer D. D. Guttenplan, who has written American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone, seems almost disappointed that Stone was eulogized warmly in publications around the world after his death in 1989. (The front-page obituary in The New York Times hailed him as an "iconoclast of journalism.") The book is in part Guttenplan's effort to rescue Stone, the subject of three previous biographies, from "his mummification into respectability," and the author's own passions are evident when he writes at the outset,

It is not as clear as it should be that Stone was not only, or merely, or even primarily, a newspaperman. He was also and always a radical, an irritant to those in power -- for his uncanny ability to seize on and publicize the most inconvenient truths, and for his vociferous objection to the existing order, for his intransigent dissatisfaction with a society that forces its children to go to war in order to pay for college and that allows the earth to be spoiled and the sick to go without medicine so corporations and those who own them can continue to pile up treasure without let or hindrance.

Stone's career spanned the New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Cold War, civil rights, and Vietnam. Guttenplan, the London correspondent for The Nation, offers a thorough analysis of his written record while also evoking the political and intellectual circles that Stone -- a socialist and a fellow traveler but never an actual member of the Communist Party -- moved in.

Born Isidore Feinstein in Philadelphia in 1907 (according to his brother, Stone explained the name change by saying that "he didn't want to turn a reader off who might be anti-Semitic, right away, before he ever read the article"), Stone was a college dropout working in a Camden, New Jersey, newsroom when he was radicalized by the 1927 executions of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. He moved to New York and talked his way into a job writing editorials for the Post, at that time the city's only left-wing daily; within a few years he was also producing bylined pieces for publications like The Nation and The New Republic. Well known in political circles by the time of the Depression, Stone cultivated friendships in the Roosevelt administration and became "the New Deal's favorite radical" and an important intermediary between radicals and liberals.

Allegations have been made that this radicalism took an extreme form, and that Stone was in fact in the employ of the KGB during the late 1930s. Guttenplan dismisses these charges, but the debate continues to rage. Either way, Stone's heart was clearly with the battle against fascism, and the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact made him one of many leftists bitterly disillusioned by the disintegration of the Popular Front. He continued to press for American intervention to stop Hitler, and after Pearl Harbor, Guttenplan writes, "as a leading advocate of radical mobilization, I. F. Stone finally found a national audience."

But his fall to pariah status was of course soon to follow. During the McCarthy years he was a target of daily FBI surveillance. (The author speculates that Stone, who was nearly deaf and had poor vision, may never have realized the extent to which he was being trailed.) "I feel for the moment like a ghost," he wrote during that lonely period.

Unable to land a newspaper job, he decided to start his own four-page broadsheet. Stone advertised his Weekly as a "miniature newspaper of uninhibited commentary and let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may reporting from Washington and elsewhere, wherever the news is hottest." For nearly two decades he delivered on that promise, building up a profitable paper whose influence is hardly suggested by its circulation, which peaked at 70,000. In the Weekly's early years he took on McCarthyism, offering the vivid lament that "a great nation is being driven towards catastrophe like a herd of sheep, moved onward and held together by the nips and growls of a few fierce dogs."

Over the years Stone provided impassioned coverage of nuclear proliferation and civil rights and reported from the Soviet Union and Cuba. He also traveled to the Middle East, writing prophetically about the Arab-Israeli conflict: just after Israel's victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, he suggested that Israel "make a virtue of necessity by offering to set up an Arab state." ("Nothing in his career made Stone so many new enemies -- or cost him so many old friends" as criticizing Israel, Guttenplan writes.)

But it was his coverage of Vietnam that secured the Weekly's place in the annals of journalism. His demolition of the State Department's white paper justifying the escalation of the war, published in March 1965, was emblematic of what Guttenplan describes as Stone's "calm, forensic, yet devastating critiques." (The author goes on to label it "probably the single most important issue of the Weekly ever published" for its role in emboldening the antiwar movement.) Stone pored over statistics in an appendix to the report to show that 95 percent of Vietcong weapons came not from China or the Soviet Union but were American-made arms seized from the South Vietnamese. The man who famously said that "all governments lie" was a master at uncovering government secrets hidden in plain sight.

After suffering health problems, Stone shut down the Weekly in 1971. He enjoyed celebrity status in his later years, traveling to Cannes for the premiere of the documentary I. F. Stone's Weekly and writing an unlikely bestseller in 1988's The Trial of Socrates, an investigation into the free-speech issues surrounding the execution of the ancient Greek philosopher. His final hospitalization was during the time of the protests in Tiananmen Square, and he came out of surgery demanding of his gathered family, "What's going on in China?"

Poignant details like that one are rare in American Radical. It's jarring to read, late in the book, the assessment from veteran journalist Peter Osnos, who worked briefly as an assistant on the Weekly, that Stone was "one of the most difficult people that walks the face of the earth"; despite Guttenplan's exhaustive research, even 400 pages in, we've learned little about the private side of Stone, who didn't keep a diary or save his correspondence.

But Guttenplan is more interested in Stone's legacy than his inner life. At the beginning of the book he compares Stone's time to our own: the quagmire of a dubious war, economic insecurity, and dissent likened to treason. During periods like these, he says, Stone is a reminder that "radicalism is as American as the Boston Tea Party." And at the book's end, rebutting the claims that Stone was a Soviet agent, Guttenplan lays out the stakes for accepting that Stone was not a spy but simply an independent radical who always spoke his mind: "Grant his credibility -- grant him the compatibility of his beloved Jefferson and his equally beloved Marx -- and I. F. Stone remains, even in death, a dangerous man." --Barbara Spindel

Barbara Spindel has covered books for Time Out New York, Newsweek.com, Details, and Spin. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374183936
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/26/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

D. D. Guttenplan, The Nation's London correspondent, is the author of The Holocaust on Trial: History, Justice and the David Irving Libel Case, and is an award-winning former writer for Newsday. His essays have appeared in many American journals and newspapers.

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Table of Contents

1 Feinstein's Progress 3

2 Publisher's Apprentice 37

3 Manhattan Transfer 69

4 Popular Front 104

5 War Years 148

6 Underground to Palestine 196

7 The Great Freeze 239

8 Coming Up for Air 284

9 The Imperial Theme 350

10 An American Tragedy 388

11 Hellenistic Period 442

12 Last Writes 464

A Note on Sources 479

Notes 483

Acknowledgments 539

Index 547

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2009

    American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone

    by Maggie Phair

    Historian D. D. Guttenplan traces the life of Isador Feinstein from birth; his conflict with his father, who wanted him to work in the family furniture store; his recognition of American anti-semitism and his consequent changing his last name to Stone; through his career as a journalist and his eventual publication of the famous "I. F. Stone's Weekly." In this, he was supported by his wife, Easther, who handled all matters of circulation and subscription.

    Guttinenplan reports Izzie's membership and chairmanship of the Camden, New Jersey Socialist Party in 1928, and his lifelong friendship and admiration for Norman Thomas; plus his eventual departure from the socialists first for the New Deal and the Democratic Party and ultimately to his long-time status as an independent. I had personally been told that Stone was a leader in the Young People's Socialist League at age 14, but Guttenplan doesn't mention this. Historical omission or party myth?

    Read the rest on the Socialist WebZine! http://socialistwebzine.blogspot.com/2009/07/book-review-american-radical-life-and.html

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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