Horwitt, Sanford D. 1943–

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Horwitt, Sanford D. 1943–


Born September 19, 1943, in Milwaukee, WI; son of Morton and Mary Horwitt; married Joan Engel (a food writer), December 26, 1970; children: Matthew, Jeffrey. Education: Northwestern University, B.S., 1965, Ph.D., 1970.


University of Illinois, Chicago, assistant professor of communications studies, 1970-74; Office of United States Representative Abner Mikva (D-IL), Washington, DC, senior legislative aide, 1974-79; writer and policy advisor for public interest organizations, Washington, DC, 1980—.



Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky; His Life and Legacy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

Feingold: A New Democratic Party, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, and Washington Post Book World.


Sanford D. Horwitt's writings include two biographies of social and political figures with Midwestern roots. Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky; His Life and Legacy tells the story of a Chicago community organizer, and Feingold: A New Democratic Party deals with U.S. senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, whom Horwitt considers the great hope for progressive politics in the Democratic Party.

Horwitt's biography of Alinsky seeks to offer new insight into the decades-long work of one of Chicago's most radical personalities. Horwitt was familiar with Chicago politics and history from his student days at Northwestern University, a teaching stint at the University of Illinois's Chicago campus, and his work as an aide to a Chicago congressman. Alinsky died in 1972, just two years after Horwitt earned his Ph.D. from Northwestern. By then, the activist was somewhat forgotten, though certain radical groups had eagerly espoused his ideas about empowering the poor. Alinsky, as Let Them Call Me Rebel details, was himself a product of the Chicago streets with origins in the city's lively immigrant Jewish quarter.

Alinsky attended the University of Chicago, where he thrived in the intellectually challenging and liberal sociology department. There, Horwitt explains, his professors encouraged a spirited, involved approach to tackling the problems of the growing class of urban poor. By the late 1930s he had affiliated himself with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a powerful labor group. Alinsky used the CIO's tactics in his work with the Chicago Area Project, an ambitious anti-delinquency program. As Horwitt demonstrates, Alinsky disdained the traditional urban "do-gooder" channels, which were primarily run by Protestant organizations, or were at least Protestant in flavor, and staffed by women.

Alinsky's next major project was a community organizing plan for the Back of the Yards, the foul-smelling, crime-ridden neighborhoods just downwind of Chicago's meat-packing plants. As Let Them Call Me Rebel explains, Alinsky had a knack for recruiting allies from unlikely sources: the Catholic archdiocese, for instance, supported the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council morally and financially. The archdiocese recognized the practicality of Alinsky's message: that empowering the poor, proving to them that they could effect change on their own, was a surefire path to community stability and prosperity—and thus the viability of their churches. From this grew Alinsky's Industrial Arts Foundation, which survives in twenty-three American cities as a grassroots, urban aid foundation run by the very people it was designed to assist.

Horwitt notes that Alinsky's ideas gradually lost support among certain liberal elements. But later, radical tacticians fully espoused Alinsky and his community-organizing methods. Both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group of 1960s, and the Black Panthers learned much from Alinsky's work. Several critics praised Horwitt's book for putting Alinsky's work in context. Ed Marciniak, reviewing Let Them Call Me Rebel for Tribune Books, found Horwitt's "behind the scenes" tour of leftist politicking noteworthy. In the New York Times Book Review, Nelson Lichtenstein termed the book "a highly readable, exhaustively researched biography that is full of both playful anecdote and thoughtful political analysis." Lichtenstein especially praised Horwitt's ability to navigate the complex territory of social-work movements and ideological nuances. New Republic writer Sean Wilentz also complimented the way in which the biographer "mastered the historical elements that swirled around his subject," and while Wilentz thought Horwitt included too many superfluous tidbits, he found Let Them Call Me Rebel "one of the most thorough and sensitive of all the modern biographies of American radicals…. It ought to be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with the enduring issues of American poverty."

Feingold's subject has served in the U.S. Senate as a champion of campaign finance reform and an opponent of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and other initiatives of President George W. Bush. Russ Feingold is among the most liberal of Democrats, but he has been willing to work with Republicans—including fellow campaign-finance reformer John McCain—and go against his party's leadership, such as when he was the only Senate Democrat to support the continuation of impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

In researching the book, Horwitt spent much time with Feingold and also interviewed the senator's family, fellow politicians, and other associates. The author traces Feingold's life through an apparently idyllic boyhood in one of the few Jewish families in Janesville, Wisconsin, academic success in college and law school, election to the state legislature, and advancement to the U.S. Senate. Horwitt portrays Feingold as a fighting progressive in the tradition of another Wisconsinite, early-twentieth-century U.S. senator Robert M. La Follette, and as the standard-bearer for liberal ideals in a party that, according to Horwitt, has increasingly embraced conservative and corporate values.

Some critics deemed the work an interesting, generally admiring biography. To Horwitt, Feingold is "an authentic progressive at a time when his party has lost its bearings," observed Vanessa Bush in Booklist. Barbara Quirk, reviewing for the Capital Times, believed that the book "puts into perspective the kind of frustra- tion many Democrats are feeling today, and it offers hope that such a ‘maverick’ may re-instill some courage and integrity into the Progressive movement." She added that Feingold "is a clear exception" to the tendency of biographies to be dull, as it offers numerous engaging political vignettes. John Nichols, also writing in the Capital Times, likewise praised this aspect of the book, saying it is full of "intricately researched and marvelously rendered" anecdotes.

A few reviewers found the biography too uncritical. "Horwitt's reverence robs his subject of depth," remarked Salon.com contributor Edward McClelland. A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Feingold is "not an official biography, but it might as well be." Alan Cooperman, writing in the Washington Post Book World, reported that "hagiography is closer to the mark" and thought the book read as if written to support a 2008 presidential run by Feingold—which he decided not to make. Nichols also characterized Feingold as a campaign biography without a candidate, but added that it is distinguished from other such works by "Horwitt's diligent research and elegant writing." He summed it up as "a rich and rewarding read," while Quirk concluded: "My only criticism of the book is that all of the stories in this remarkable man's career cannot be contained in one volume."



Booklist, July 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Feingold: A New Democratic Party, p. 13.

Capital Times (Madison, WI), August 2, 2007, John Nichols, "Feingold Tale Is Just Beginning," p. C1; January 8, 2008, Barbara Quirk, "Feingold Biography Exciting, Hopeful," p. C3.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2007, review of Feingold.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 3, 1989, Harry Bernstein, "The Godfather of American Social Activism," p. 3.

New Republic, December 25, 1989, Sean Wilentz, "Local Hero," pp. 30-38.

New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, Nelson Lichtenstein, "It Never Hurts to Have a Few Enemies," p. 23.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 8, 1989, Ed Marciniak, "Urban Warrior: The Embattled, Liberating Vision of Activist Saul Alinsky," p. 1.

Washington Post Book World, November 19, 1989, Robert L. Borosage, "Saul Alinsky: Radical Cheek," pp. 1-2; August 12, 2007, Alan Cooperman, "Campaign Watch," p. 2.


Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (July 24, 2007), Edward McClelland, "Russ Feingold Is Not from the Real World."

Sanford Horwitt Home Page, http://sanfordhorwitt.com (March 18, 2008).