Harold Rosenberg: A Critic‘s Life (Hardcover)

Harold Rosenberg: A Critic‘s Life By Debra Bricker Balken Cover Image
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Despite being one of the foremost American intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, Harold Rosenberg (1906–1978) was utterly incapable of fitting in—and he liked it that way. Signature cane in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he cut a distinctive figure on the New York City culture scene, with his radiant dark eyes and black bushy brows. A gangly giant at six foot four, he would tower over others as he forcefully expounded on his latest obsession in an oddly high-pitched, nasal voice. And people would listen, captivated by his ideas.
With Harold Rosenberg: A Critic’s Life, Debra Bricker Balken offers the first-ever complete biography of this great and eccentric man. Although he is now known mainly for his role as an art critic at the New Yorker from 1962 to 1978, Balken weaves together a complete tapestry of Rosenberg’s life and literary production, cast against the dynamic intellectual and social ferment of his time. She explores his role in some of the most contentious cultural debates of the Cold War period, including those over the commodification of art and the erosion of individuality in favor of celebrity, demonstrated in his famous essay “The Herd of Independent Minds.” An outspoken socialist and advocate for the political agency of art, he formed deep alliances with figures such as Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Paul Goodman, Mary McCarthy, Jean-Paul Sartre, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, all of whom Balken portrays with vivid accounts from Rosenberg’s life.

Thoroughly researched and captivatingly written, this book tells in full Rosenberg’s brilliant, fiercely independent life and the five decades in which he played a leading role in US cultural, intellectual, and political history.

About the Author

Debra Bricker Balken is an independent scholar, writer, and curator with a focus on American modernism and contemporary art. Her most recent publications include Arthur Dove, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Things and Harold Rosenberg: A Critic’s Life.

Praise For…

"[This] book is a thoroughgoing, well-researched biography of Harold Rosenberg, but it’s also really an intellectual history of New York City, over six decades."
— Brooklyn Rail

"Balken’s insightful and admiring biography seeks to reclaim Rosenberg for the pantheon. Through an intellectual history, Balken skillfully recounts the range and depth of this unusual man, who sustained commitments to a panoply of subjects—art, aesthetics, criticism, poetry, Marxism—without ever succumbing to any party line. . . . Balken’s book gives a panoramic view of Rosenberg’s complex arguments, and does so unimpeded by jargon."
— Dissent

"This biography is a formidable attempt at offering us some insight into a figure who lived in a city that, after the Second World War, was on fire with ideas, power, ambition, and art."
— Hyperallergic

“[A] perfect compendium of the convoluted social and political history of the 20th century. . . As Balken’s biography beautifully illustrates, [Rosenberg's] critical insights and writing, like the virtues of painters whose work he extolled, was crafted as romantic and heroic exploration of the mysteries of personal identity, private meaning, and public commitment in action.”
— Critics at Large

"The most extensive study of the critic to date."
— New York Review of Books

"An exceptional achievement, the book is both fact-filled and nuanced."
— Art & Object

"The author's ability to decipher the entanglements of a cultural milieu that emerged from this intellectual hotbed is remarkable, and her historical precision alongside some 15 years of research is especially noteworthy. Ms. Balken's writing is compelling and evenhanded, illuminating some of the last century's most conspicuous intellectual scuffles, social convolutions, and cultural progress with stunning lucidity."
— The East Hampton Star

"Harold Rosenberg: A Critic’s Life is a highly enjoyable read and will become a valuable reference work for any study of the New York School."
— The Critic

"Well-researched. . . . Balken paints Rosenberg as an outsider by design, and recreates the people, places, and intellectual movements that influenced the fiercely independent thinker from his native Brooklyn to bohemian, leftist Manhattan in the 1930s."
— Publishers Weekly

“This thoroughly researched biography of Harold Rosenberg, America’s greatest art critic, vividly captures the Rosenberg I knew as an intellect and a friend—I couldn’t put it down.”
— Jonathan Fineberg, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“In her mesmerizing, tough-minded, and prodigiously researched intellectual biography of Harold Rosenberg, Balken tracks the legendary art critic’s extraordinary intellectual journey through almost every major esthetic and political development—and battle—in the US and France from 1930 through the 1960s. This welcome book challenges readers to consider what it is about Rosenberg that we still need and whether there might ever be another prominent working critic with his independence, culture, and engaged and poetic imagination.”
— Michael Brenson, art critic and art historian

“A most impressive achievement, Balken’s exhaustively researched biography of Harold Rosenberg constitutes a significant contribution to our knowledge of American intellectual and artistic life during this unusually fertile period.”
— Charles W. Haxthausen, Williams College
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226036199
ISBN-10: 0226036197
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: October 6th, 2021
Pages: 656