BookPeople is proud to partner with the Austin American-Statesman for their monthly Statesman Selects program. Each month, BookPeople will highlight the Statesman’s top recommended read for Austin. February’s pick is Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century by Daniel Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer will join us here at BookPeople Friday, February 12 at 7PM to speak and sign his book. Pick up a copy of the Statesman on Sunday, February 7 to read their review of the book!
“This is a book about why six men changed.”
In an unusual history of the American left, Daniel Oppenheimer takes a provocative look into the United State’s political soul via the lives of six major political figures whose journeys away from the left reshaped the contours of American politics in the twentieth century: Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens.
What if Chambers had come of age in the 1960s and’70s when there was more breathing room for sexual experimentation? What if Reagan’s movie career had been more successful, keeping him from working for General Electric? What if Norman Mailer hadn’t written a critical review of Podhoretz memoir? What if Horowitz hadn’t had a colleague killed by allies in the Black Panther Party? Hard to say. But throughout the book, Oppenheimer’s inquiries refract onto us. Would we believe differently if we had been born 20 years earlier? Could we be as fragile as these men, only without the having it all out there for the world to see?
In addition to telling the story of the past century’s most important political movements, this is a book that asks profound questions about why and how we come to believe politically at all. Each of these six lives challenges us to ask where our own beliefs come from, and what it might take to change them.
CRITICS ON EXIT RIGHT
“[Exit Right] is flawed in the particular way that only great books can be. It fails to fully answer the impossibly ambitious questions it lays out, but its insights are so absorbing that it doesn’t matter [and] the prose is so perfect. …This book proves so satisfying precisely because it leaves you wanting much more. … Oppenheimer began with a book about the origins of political beliefs and ended with one about the literary force of political misgivings. They’re both worth reading.” –The Washington Post
“Call it natural evolution or ideological midlife crisis, but the figures profiled here … all turned away from the political left, either incrementally or in revelatory bursts. … Brilliant yet fallible, these apostates deserve our attention, Oppenheimer believes. Right or wrong, they ‘reckoned with themselves at the most terrifyingly fundamental level.’”–The New York Times Book Review
“[A] confident debut. … [Oppenheimer] excels in portraying the personal torments and costs to his subjects in their transitional struggles…. The interplay between large historical movements and personal anguish is well-balanced and skillfully handled throughout. Whether his subjects are viewed as champions or apostates, Oppenheimer’s insightful narrative should inspire some soul-searching among political believers of every stripe.” –Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
ABOUT DANIEL OPPENHEIMER
Daniel Oppenheimer is a writer and filmmaker whose articles and videos have been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, and salon.com. He has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and is a director of strategic communications at the University of Texas at Austin.