The Problems with Patterson’s Heinlein Biography

Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

I reviewed the late William Patterson’s new biography of the writer Robert Heinlein for the New Republic. Because the New Republic is a general interest magazine, I focused my review on only one of major complaints against Patterson (that he lacked critical distance from Heinlein). But I had many more problems with Patterson which I thought wouldn’t be of interest to a New Republic readership but should be noted for the record. In general, these complaints grow from the initial problem noted in the New Republic article (lack of critical distance) but are more detailed.

In no particular order, the problems with the book are:

1. Lack of curiosity about Heinlein’s ties to the far right. Heinlein wrote an article for the October 1960 issue of The American Mercury titled “’Pravada’ Means ‘Truth’”. The interesting thing about this anti-communist article is the venue: by 1960 the American Mercury, once edited by H.L. Mencken but fallen on hard times, was an anti-Semitic far right journal. People who were otherwise very conservative – notably William F. Buckley and William Rusher, both of National Review – warned their fellow right-wingers not to publish in it. In fact, National Review had a policy that anyone who published in the American Mercury could not publish in the National Review. When you consider how racist National Review was in the 1950s, the embargo on the American Mercury is astonishing.  Heinlein had a very good record on anti-Semitism, having denounced it since the 1930s and even breaking friendships with anti-Semites. So what was he doing writing for the American Mercury (which had a jibe against Jews in the very issue Heinlein published in)? Patterson doesn’t ask.

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Curses From an Old Manse

Winston Churchill: a cool man with a quip.
Winston Churchill: a cool man with a quip.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:
Teddy Roosevelt stated the problem well when he said, “A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”  Obama got in trouble for saying that the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” when they arrested Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  You know what’s stupid?  People thinking that Obama was wrong for using the word stupid.  I’m just happy to finally have a president who knows when to use an adverb.  In days of yore, politicians ripped each other apart leaving a path of verbal destruction as far as the monocled eye could see, and people didn’t care.  (However, TR also said “Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”  So maybe sometimes it’s actually better not to say exactly what you think, especially if your opinions are stupid.)