Stein, Harry 1948–
Stein, Harry 1948–
PERSONAL: Born November 25, 1948, in New York, NY; son of Joseph (a playwright) and Sadie (a homemaker; maiden name, Singer) Stein; married Priscilla Turner (a television writer), November 17, 1980; children: Sadie, Charlie. Education: Pomona College, B.A., 1971; Columbia University, School of Journalism, M.S., 1971.
ADDRESSES: Home—Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, 7th Fl., HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Cofounder of Richmond Mercury, beginning 1972; Paris Metro (English-language periodical), Paris, France, cofounder and contributor, 1976–78; New Times, New York, NY, former associate editor.
Tiny Tim (biography), Playboy (Chicago, IL), 1976.
Ethics (and Other Liabilities): Trying to Live Right in an Amoral World (essays), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982.
Hoopla (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
One of the Guys: The Wising Up of an American Man (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Peter Z. Malkin) Eichmann in My Hands (memoir), Warner (New York, NY), 1990.
The Magic Bullet (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.
Infinity's Child (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2000.
The Girl Watchers Club: Six Old Soldiers and Dispatches from the Battlefields of Life, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of six screenplays. Esquire, contributing editor, 1976–, ethics columnist, 1980–84; writer of syndicated humor column "Harry Stein's Homefront" in Paris Metro, 1987–88; writer of columns for TV Guide and Wall Street Journal; contributor to periodicals, including American Heritage, GQ, Men's Health, New Times, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, Playboy, Third Age, and New York Times (magazine).
SIDELIGHTS: Harry Stein, a versatile journalist and author of nonfiction, historical fiction, and medical thrillers, "has made a career of writing about serious subjects in a manner that veers between the ironic and the comic," according to Anthony Astrachan in the New York Times Book Review. As the ethics columnist for Esquire magazine during the early 1980s, Stein was considered by many to be the representative of his generation and class. As an interpreter of gender struggles in his 1988 book, One of the Guys: The Wising Up of an American Man, Stein proved himself "not simply one of the guys," suggested John Blades in Tribune Books, "but one of the wise guys, in the best sense of the term."
Upon graduating from Pomona College and the Columbia School of Journalism, Stein contributed to several publications, including New Times, for which he wrote a piece on 1960s pop singer Tiny Tim. From the article about the entertainer, who was known for his ukulele strumming and falsetto voice, Stein produced a book that attempts in part to answer the questions, "Is Tiny Tim for real? Is he really a freak comic who believes his act?" Susan Braudy, who posed the questions in the New York Times Book Review, found that "Harry Stein takes Tim pretty much at his word and reports his story in detail," describing Tiny Tim's erratic career, his short-lived marriage, and his irrepressibly optimistic outlook. Braudy concluded, however, that the singer in Stein's book "is more than a freak. There is something high camp about him. He is a walking parody of American values. He claims to love brand names…. And he loves God, marriage and country with more fervor than any John Bircher." Stein once explained to CA that through his book he intended "very lightly, and I hope amusingly, to look at the kind of culture that creates and then exploits a figure like Tiny."
About the time Tiny Tim was published in the mid-1970s, Stein moved to Paris, France, and helped found the English-language magazine Paris Metro. He contributed a humor column to the journal during its two-and-a-half-year run, cultivating his talent for writing light social commentary. Upon returning to the United States, Stein rejoined Esquire and began writing a column called "Ethics." Its readers welcomed Stein's insights on contemporary American life, even proving their devotion by producing T-shirts adorned with the entreaty, "But what would Harry Stein do?" Although he eventually ceased writing the column, he continued to contribute other articles to Esquire, and he gathered many of his earlier pieces into the extremely popular book Ethics (and Other Liabilities): Trying to Live Right in an Amoral World.
Critical reaction to Ethics, which contains essays about such topics as infidelity, greed, and abortion, was largely favorable. In her review in Commentary, Naomi Munson praised Stein's choice of topics and admired his viewpoints, calling the columnist "the conscience of the floundering generation of the 60's, those ever idealistic young people now lost in the morally arid world of the 70's and 80's." Voicing one of the few criticisms of the book, however, Munson also denied that Stein's discussions were truly rooted in ethics. "The author's position on the baser human tendencies," she wrote, "is that they are undesirable because they exact too high a spiritual and psychological price; even adultery, in Stein's view, is to be avoided simply because it 'makes most everyone involved feel rotten.'" More enthusiastic was National Review contributor Joe Mysak, who called Stein's essays "compelling." "Here is a man grappling with moral decisions," Mysak declared, "with right and wrong, with what were once called the eternal verities before the Left decided everything was negotiable and everything was relative." The reviewer concluded: "Ethics is a worthwhile, if occasionally infuriating, book, and the author has enough humor to keep his essays from becoming Puritan harangues."
Stein's next venture was the semifictional novel Hoopla, which is based on the so-called Black Sox scandal in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox professional baseball team were accused of conspiring with gamblers to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. Though eventually acquitted of criminal charges, the players were nonetheless banned from playing professional baseball. Stein tells the story from the perspectives of two characters: fictional journalist Luther Pond, an arrogant columnist reminiscing in 1974 about his coverage of the event and the resulting success of his career, and real-life White Sox infielder George "Buck" Weaver, who recalls the incident in his 1944 memoirs and concedes knowledge of, but not participation in, the 1919 conspiracy. "These two voices are perfectly pitched," determined Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in his New York Times review. "Together they blend ideally to take us beyond the known facts of the scandal and offer fictional but plausible explanations for some of its enduring mysteries."
Many reviewers praised Hoopla, considering the 1983 novel, as did Lehmann-Haupt, "a rollicking history of the game filled with amusing details about the way baseball was played in the late 19th and early 20th century." Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck agreed with this assessment, writing in the Chicago Tribune Book World that Stein "has done his homework … Somehow he manages to get inside the skin of both the heroes and villains who troop across his pages. I know he's accurate, you see," Veeck explained, "because we agree on the personality and nature of most of his characters, some of whom were long-time friends, others boyhood acquaintances, and all everyday subjects of conversation in our home as I grew up." Especially compelling, reviewers noted, are Stein's descriptions of then-owner Charles Comiskey, whose legendary stinginess and favoritism allegedly prompted the players' revolt.
A recurring criticism of Hoopla was that it fails to distinguish adequately between fact and fiction. Noting that Buck Weaver died thirty years before the book was written, Jeremiah Tax wrote in Sports Illustrated that Weaver's memoir is "really what Stein thinks Weaver would have written and therefore is at least semific-tional…. [Also,] Pond being fictitious, you are on your own for a description of what his version is." Lehmann-Haupt, however, insisted that "only a foolish reader will take Mr. Stein's novel literally. What matters is the truth of its atmosphere, and in this respect it is as authentic as a photograph." He concluded that "if it isn't the truth behind the Black Sox scandal, then it ought to be."
Stein teamed with Israeli secret agent Peter Z. Malkin to produce Malkin's memoir, Eichmann in My Hands. It is "a deceptively simple account of one of history's great manhunts," according to Lehmann-Haupt in a New York Times Book Review assessment of the 1990 account of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's capture. Once bound to secrecy, Malkin publicly documents his experiences with Eichmann in Eichmann in My Hands, including how he grabbed the Nazi leader on the street and, with the help of other agents, took him into hiding. According to Lehmann-Haupt, Eichmann was "the Nazi who had coined the expression 'the final solution' and [became the] chief architect of Adolf Hitler's attempt to exterminate European Jewry." "Eichmann," the critic continued, "had been responsible for the deaths of many of Mr. Malkin's relatives, including a brother and a sister." This history is what drove Malkin's fascination with Eichmann. "[Malkin] broke the rules of silence that bound him and fell into a lengthy dialogue with his captive," Lehmann-Haupt related. "In a curious way, he even befriended Eichmann," the reviewer added, remarking that "while disillusioned with human nature by his exposure to Eichmann, [Malkin] is still able to arrive at a rational explanation for what Eichmann represented."
Stein's 2000 memoir, How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace) is about Stein's political transformation. "With a smart aleck's nerve and a prophet's boldness, Harry Stein has written a wickedly funny and moral book, puncturing the liberal complacency of New York City," attested Allen D. Boyer in the New York Times Book Review. John Leo explained in U.S. News & World Report that "as late as 1984, Stein still considered himself a liberal Democrat, though one who thought Ronald Reagan had won re-election in part because the left had handed the 'values issue' to the right by default. He thought that Democrats had lost millions of possible allies by imposing litmus tests on so many issues, from abortion to bilingualism. Little by little, mandatory orthodoxy began to weigh on Stein." Leo recognized that "Stein is still no great fan of the Republican establishment."
In the mid-1980s Stein syndicated a humor column about family life—called "Harry Stein's Homefront"—to more than forty newspapers. He also wrote the book One of the Guys. Here, Stein discusses his life from youth to adulthood, describing not only his own relationships but also his perceptions of the changing relationships between men and women. Some reviewers, including Anthony Astrachan in the New York Times Book Review, approached the book with skepticism: "Books about growing up male in America tend to be studiously sociological, ponderously psychological, hortatory, lamentatory, or all of the above. One of the Guys," Astrachan found, "is none of the above." Lehmann-Haupt, again writing for the New York Times, was similarly impressed. "Mr. Stein has succeeded to a remarkable degree," the reviewer asserted. "He has plunged into three of the subjects most difficult for the masculine ego to confront—his father … his best childhood friendship … and his relations with women." According to Lehmann-Haupt, Stein concludes, among other things, "that over the years his wife has become his best friend and that the battle of the sexes has changed."
The author's personal anecdotes, at once serious and lighthearted, are considered especially poignant. "Mr. Stein's ability to laugh at himself," noted Astrachan, "is a rare quality in a writer who sticks so closely to the personal while showing, but hardly ever stating, that the personal is political." But Astrachan and others also considered Stein's emphasis on the personal a weakness as well as a strength. The author "finds it difficult to integrate his particular experience with the general experience of men," explained Astrachan, "[and to integrate] his personal reality with other men's feelings and thoughts." Lehmann-Haupt likewise found that "it isn't particularly useful to generalize from Mr. Stein's experience…. But Mr. Stein doesn't pretend to be everyone. What he describes is one man's experience…. It's an unscientific report, but it sounds like progress."
In addition to his thoughtful nonfiction works, Stein has also written two thrillers, The Magic Bullet and Infinity's Child. The thirty-one-year-old protagonist of The Magic Bullet, David Logan, races to find a cure for cancer but discovers that his efforts, which at first appear to be successful, are being sabotaged by his employer.
Infinity's Child centers around Sally Benedict, a newspaper editor/investigative reporter who is about to become a new mother. Benedict discovers that two bodies stolen from the local cemetery are those of her relatives. These people, along with her fetus, are very important to some scientists who believe they carry the "Infinity" gene, which is associated with long life. Though believing that the storyline is not entirely convincing and its protagonist not wholly compelling, a Publishers Weekly critic complimented the novel, reporting that "Stein writes with a slick pen, using crafty narrative techniques to persuade readers to stick around until the shivery scene of delivery-room horror that ends the novel." Booklist contributor William Beatty added: "Stein smoothly combines suspense, suspicion, and relevant violence in a fascinating but unsettlingly believable medical thriller."
Stein's father-in-law, Moe Turner, is one of the six men profiled in The Girl Watchers Club: Six Old Soldiers and Dispatches from the Battlefields of Life. All of the men are veterans of World War II, aging friends who have met weekly for thirty-five years, usually for lunch, in Monterey, California. Through them, Stein presents a view of the Great Depression, the war, and the hardships of their generation. Library Journal reviewer Edward Metz noted that Stein "is especially strident in lamenting the 'naked self-absorption' and 'relative moralism' of his fellow baby boomers." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that while the men of this generation are admired for their wartime heroism, Stein's view is that "almost nobody today adheres to the same high standards of honor, duty, and responsibility that drove them." "There's vigor to Stein's characterizations," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, "and solid grace in his writing."
Stein once told CA: "I think—or like to believe—that there's been a consistency to my work, both stylistically and in terms of message. I try hard never to be ponderous or too obviously weighty; I aim, in my small way, to amuse. But I am also much concerned with the kind of culture we live in and the values—too often rotten ones, I think—that we casually embrace. I really believe that each of us has an obligation, in his or her own way, to try to make the world a slightly better place."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Stein, Harry, One of the Guys: The Wising Up of an American Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.
Booklist, December 1, 1996, William Beatty, review of Infinity's Child, p. 621.
Chicago Tribune Book World, October 2, 1983, Bill Veeck, review of Hoopla.
Commentary, January, 1983, Naomi Munson, review of Ethics (and Other Liabilities): Trying to Live Right in an Amoral World.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2003, review of The Girl Watchers Club: Six Old Soldiers and Dispatches from the Battlefields of Life, p. 1398.
Library Journal, February 1, 2004, Edward Metz, review of The Girl Watchers Club, p. 114.
National Review, December 10, 1982, Joe Mysak, review of Ethics (and Other Liabilities), p. 1566.
New York Times, December 19, 1983, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Hoopla, p. C20; March 24, 1988, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of One of the Guys, p. C30.
New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1976, Susan Braudy, review of Tiny Tim; March 27, 1988, Anthony Astrachan, review of One of the Guys; May 3, 1990, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Eichmann in My Hands, p. 21; June 18, 2000, Allen D. Boyer, review of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace).
Publishers Weekly, December 9, 1996, review of Infinity's Child, p. 60; November 17, 2003, review of The Girl Watchers Club, p. 53.
School Library Journal, February, 1998, Carol DeAngelo, review of Infinity's Child, p. 141.
Sports Illustrated, October 10, 1983, Jeremiah Tax, review of Hoopla.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 24, 1988, John Blades, review of One of the Guys.
U.S. News & World Report, June 12, 2000, John Leo, review of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), p. 14.
HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harpercollins.com/ (January 28, 2006), brief biography of Harry Stein.