From Left to Right: Lucy Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History by Nancy Sinkoff

Intellectuals tend to have a briefer moment in the sun than novelists or poets; they are taking part in the arguments of the day rather than creating monuments for the ages. But for some reason, the reputation of the New York Intellectuals—a group of brilliant essayists, critics, and social observers who flourished in the mid-20th century—still endures, even as the last surviving members of the group enter their 90s.

Perhaps few people still actually read the literary essays of Lionel Trilling, the aesthetic theories of Clement Greenberg, the cultural criticism of Dwight Macdonald or the polemics of the dueling Irvings, Howe and Kristol, paladins of the left and right, respectively. But collectively, they stand for an ideal that still matters: the freelance thinker, unconstrained by academic dogmas, who has something insightful to say about any subject, whether it’s a presidential election or the late style of Henry James.