Baldwin, Neil 1947–
BALDWIN, Neil 1947–
Born June 21, 1947, in New York, NY; son of David S. (a physician) and Halee (a teacher) Baldwin; married Roberta Plutzik (a writer), September 12, 1971; children: Nicholas, Allegra. Education: Attended University of Manchester, 1967-68; University of Rochester, B.A., 1969; State University of New York—Buffalo, Ph.D., 1973.
Lewiston Artpark, Lewiston, NY, associate director of community programs, 1974; New York State Poets-in-the-Schools program, coordinator for Buffalo and Erie counties, NY, 1974-77; Poets and Writers, Inc., New York, NY, director of New York State Readings/Workshops program, 1977-79; Teachers and Writers Collaborative, New York, NY, associate director, 1979-81; Neil Baldwin Associates (development and management consultants), New York, NY, director, 1981-84; New York Public Library, New York, NY, coordinator of special projects for development office, 1984-89; National Book Foundation, New York, NY, executive director, 1989-2003; distinguished visiting professor of history, Montclair State University, beginning 2006. Director of writing workshops and seminars in New York State, 1973-77; lecturer in English at State University of New York—Buffalo and Medaille College, 1974-75; writer-in-residence at Lewiston Artpark, 1974 and 1980-82; adjunct faculty member of City University of New York, New School for Social Research, New York University, Fordham University, and Hunter College, 1981-82. Member, Forum for Corporate Responsibility.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN (member of newsletter committee), Modern Language Association, American Studies Association, American Historical Association.
Gold Hugo Prize, Chicago Film Festival, and Emmy Award nomination, both for Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde; National Jewish Book Award in History finalist, 2001-02, for Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate.
(With others) The Dead of Winter (poetry), Salt-Works Press (Vineyard Haven, MA), 1974.
Seasons (poetry), Salt-Works Press (Vineyard Haven, MA), 1976.
On the Trail of Messages (poetry), Salt-Works Press (Vineyard Haven, MA), 1978.
(With Steven L. Meyers) The Manuscripts and Letters of William Carlos Williams in the Poetry Collection of the Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York at Buffalo: A Descriptive Catalogue, G.K. Hall (Woodbridge, CT), 1978.
The Poetry Writing Handbook, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1981.
Ninth-Month Midnight (poetry), Salt-Works Press (Vineyard Haven, MA), 1983.
John Knowles's A Separate Peace, Barron's (Woodbury, NY), 1984.
To All Gentleness: William Carlos Williams, the Doctor-Poet, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Man Ray: American Artist, C.N. Potter (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition, Da Capo (New York, NY), 2001.
Edison: Inventing the Century, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.
(Coeditor) The Writing Life, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde (television script; based on Baldwin's Man Ray: American Artist), first broadcast on WNET-TV, April, 1997.
Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 1998.
Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2001.
The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of additional educational handbooks for teachers. Contributor to periodicals, including Glamour, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, New York Times, and Redbook. Contributing editor of Small Press; editor of Niagara Magazine, 1974-82.
Educator and educational administrator Neil Baldwin's writings include volumes of poetry, educational guides, and biographies. It is for his biographies on American poet William Carlos Williams, American artist Man Ray, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, and industrialist Henry Ford, as well as for his "biography" of a Mexican god, that Baldwin has received the most critical attention, particularly for his ability to reveal his subjects in light of their cultural environments.
It was in an undergraduate course on American intellectual history that Baldwin first asked himself how a culture could be defined by its great thinkers rather than by its wars and political leaders. Nevertheless, he published several volumes of poetry before tackling his first major biography, To All Gentleness: William Carlos Williams, the Doctor-Poet. In this book, Baldwin details the life of Williams, a twentieth-century poet who was also a medical doctor. The author considered it significant that Williams spent virtually all of his life in Rutherford, New Jersey, unlike the numerous American intellectuals who moved to Paris, France, in the first half of the twentieth century. New York Times Book Review contributor Susan Stamberg praised the book as "a deftly written portrait of the doctor-poet."
Next, Baldwin tackled the visual arts in Man Ray: American Artist, an exhaustive account of Ray's life, from his early days in Brooklyn, New York, through his years in Paris, and finally to his last work in Hollywood. Baldwin reveals Ray as an artist who excelled in several mediums, including photography, painting, and film making. Reviewers lauded Baldwin for examining Ray in the context of the different cultures that Ray inhabited. Reviewing a revised edition of that title in Library Journal, Michael Rogers noted that Baldwin's was "the first full-length biography of Man Ray."
With Edison: Inventing the Century, Baldwin took on another American original, Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, who, from his workshop in New Jersey, helped define the American century. "To Baldwin," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "the Ohio-born genius … embodied the American experiment in industrial civilization and the potential of technological change." The same reviewer felt that Baldwin "spins an inspirational American saga of titanic determination and protean imagination." Booklist critic Gilbert Taylor noted that "Baldwin eschews categorical conclusions and rather invites the curious into Edison's homes, labs and factories where they can make their own inspection," while Newsweek writer David Gates praised Baldwin's objective look at the 'Wizard of Menlo Park,' concluding that "Baldwin has demythologized the man and left the genius bigger than life."
Biography of a very different sort is served up in Baldwin's 1998 book, Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God. Inspired by summer trips to the Yucatan, Baldwin mingles "travelogue, history and a profound meditation on the clash between Mesoamerican and European settler civilizations," according to a critic for Publishers Weekly. The myth of the Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, is at the center of the book, and Baldwin charts this symbol throughout early Mexican cultures in a "stunning feat of cross-cultural understanding," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Gwen Gregory, writing in Library Journal, was impressed by the breadth of scholarship in this "fascinating tour of Mexican cultural history." Though Robert D. Kaplan, assessing the title for the New York Times Book Review, felt that Baldwin's "singular obsession with the Plumed Serpent makes his narrative seem forced at times," the critic also allowed that the author "has generally succeeded in writing a useful and condensed history of what transfixes foreigners about Mexico."
Baldwin returns to American biography with Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate, a book that focuses on Ford's anti-Semitism, a characteristic little remembered today about the man who brought the automobile to Everyman. "The strength of this biography lies in context," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly: "by emphasizing Ford's background, influences and the world around the auto manufacturer, Baldwin … brings a fresh approach to what has long been known about one of America's most famous anti-Semites." Jonathan Cohen, writing in the Houston Chronicle, felt that Baldwin's biography "is a crisp account of Henry Ford's utterly crazy belief in a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world." Other critics praised Baldwin's approach to his subject. Commentary contributor Jonathan D. Sarna, for one, commented that "Ford was no terrorist, and his depredations were verbal rather than physical, but as Neil Baldwin demonstrates in this timely book, the automaker's anti-Semitic ravings, published serially in the newspaper he owned, along with the mass distribution he gave to the notorious forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, wrought untold damage in their day." Baldwin also contextualizes Ford's anti-Semitism into the general thinking of turn-of-the-twentieth-century America in this "perceptive, balanced book," according to Booklist writer George Cohen. George Robinson, reviewing Henry Ford and the Jews for the New York Times Book Review, felt that "Baldwin's fascinating book meanders, but at times it reads like a Dreiser novel."
With The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War Baldwin combines biography with the theme of American ideals. Instead of discussing just one person here, he covers ten, many of whom might not be familiar to readers. Along with Common Sense author Thomas Paine and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, Baldwin adds Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, the man who came up with the slogan "E pluribus unum," Israel Zangwill, whose play The Melting Pot introduced the popular idea of embracing multiculturalism, and John O'Sullivan, whose concept of Manifest Destiny expressed America's idea to conquer a continent. Others are discussed here, too, bringing the number to ten subjects who each put forth an ideal of American philosophy toward which the country has tried to strive. While a Publishers Weekly contributor felt that picking ten such people was an arbitrary choice that "necessarily leaves out a great deal," Library Journal contributor Karl Helicher called the book "illuminating."
Baldwin once told CA: "As my list of publications illustrates, although my career path has included a broad variety of institutions and situations, it is unified by one consistent strain: writing. I have documented every major concern in my intellectual life and have done so in several genres…. My career of documentation through multigeneric writing has prepared me to write a book that fills a grievous gap in the aesthetic history of this century."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American History, June, 1995, review of Edison, p. 30.
American Spectator, May, 1995, Florence King, review of Edison: Inventing the Century, pp. 70-71.
Book, January-February, 2002, Terry Teachout, "A Titan of Industry and a Bigot," p. 68.
Booklist, February 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Edison, p. 1044; November 15, 2001, George Cohen, review of Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate, p. 543; June 1, 2005, Vernon Ford, review of The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War, p. 1743.
Business Week, February 20, 1995, Peter Coy, review of Edison, p. 17; January 21, 2002, review of Henry Ford and the Jews, p. 15.
Commentary, December, 2001, Jonathan D. Sarna, review of Henry Ford and the Jews, p. 74.
ETC., fall, 1997, Martin H. Levinson, review of Edison, pp. 379-380.
Houston Chronicle, December 16, 2000, Jonathan Cohen, "Henry Ford's Mass-Produced Anti-Semitism," p. 17.
Latin American Research Review, spring, 2001, Anna L. Peterson, review of Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God, p. 237.
Library Journal, January, 1995, Michael D. Cramer, review of Edison, p. 110; January, 1999, Gwen Gregory, review of Legends of the Plumed Serpent, p. 110; July, 2001, Michael Rogers, review of Man Ray: American Artist, p. 132; December, 2001, Daniel Liestman, review of Henry Ford and the Jews, p. 143; April 15, 2005, Karl Helicher, review of The American Revelation, p. 101.
Newsweek, March 20, 1995, David Gates, review of Edison, p. 64.
New Yorker, April 17, 1995, review of Edison, p. 108.
New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1984, Susan Stamberg, review of To All Gentleness: William Carlos Williams, the Doctor-Poet; March 26, 1995, review of Edison, p. 18; February 7, 1999, Robert D. Kaplan, review of Legends of the Plumed Serpent, p. 19; January 13, 2002, George Robinson, review of Henry Ford and the Jews, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1994, review of Edison, p. 55; February 6, 1995, Nicholas Basbanes, "Neil Baldwin," pp. 64-65; October 19, 1998, review of Legends of the Plumed Serpent, p. 63; October 29, 2001, review of Henry Ford and the Jews, p. 48; May 2, 2005, review of The American Revelation, p. 187.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 2, 1995, review of Edison, p. 18.
Neil Baldwin Home Page,http://www.neilbaldwinbooks.com (June 23, 2006).*