Riesman, David, Jr. 1909-2002

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RIESMAN, David, Jr. 1909-2002

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born September 22, 1909, in Philadelphia, PA; died May 10, 2002, in Binghamton, NY. Sociologist, attorney, educator, and author. Riesman was the coauthor of the influential 1950 book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, which helped make sociology a popular subject in the United States. Although he later became a sociologist, Riesman began his career as an attorney, having received his law degree in 1934 from Harvard University. After passing the Bar in both Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., he worked as a law clerk for Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and then for a Boston law firm. In 1937 he joined the University of Buffalo faculty as a law professor, remaining until 1941. Passing the New York Bar exam, he moved on to Columbia University Law School and became deputy assistant district attorney for New York County from 1942 to 1943. During World War II Riesman was an executive at the Sperry Gyroscope Company; after the war he switched to sociology after his writings on civil liberties drew attention from the University of Chicago. He was a professor of social sciences at theUniversity of Chicago during the late 1940s and through the 1950s, joining the Harvard University faculty in 1958 where he remained until his retirement in 1980. Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, coauthored with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, was initially intended to be only for academics, but its message about U.S. society made it an unexpected bestseller. In it, the authors explain that U.S. society during the 1950s was in a conformist state, prompting some readers—inspired by the social unrest of the 1960s—to interpret the work as a call for nonconformity. Riesman held that The Lonely Crowd should not be taken to mean that all people were conformists: individuals are much too complex for such generalities. Significantly, Riesman's The Lonely Crowd initiated a period of self-analysis among Americans that continued into the twenty-first century. The author followed his first book with Faces in the Crowd: Individual Studies in Character and Politics (1952), written with Glazer, and Individualism Reconsidered, and Other Essays (1954). In his subsequent books Riesman turned more to the subject of academia, writing on such subjects as student power, the decrease in faculty power, and the effect of politics on educational institutions in such works as The Academic Revolution (1968; written with Christopher Jencks) and On Higher Education: The Academic Enterprise in an Era of Rising Student Consumerism (1980).



Writers Directory, 16th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2002, p. B16.

New York Times, May 11, 2002, p. B15.

Times (London, England), May 30, 2002.

Washington Post, May 12, 2002, p. C9.