The Immortal Mind of Nathan Glazer

Martin Peretz, "The Immortal Mind of Nathan Glazer," Tablet, January 23, 2019.

Martin Peretz discusses the life and ideas of Nathan Glazer:


Nathan Glazer died this past Saturday at 95: one of the last surviving members of New York intellectuals who graduated from the tenements to the revolutionary excitement of City College and the life of the mind, and from there to the world stage. Glazer was a professor of sociology at Berkeley and then Harvard; the co-editor of the most influential journal of public policy in the second half of the 20th century; and the co-author of two of the most important books of popular sociology in that same period. To his friends, he was Nat, and admired as much for his modesty and humane sensibility as well his brilliance. To friends like me, who worked with him in the realm of ideas, he was admired for something even rarer: He merged his humanity with his intellect, and so made ideas matter for real life.

Since 1959, I’ve been what you might call an intellectual entrepreneur: someone who, while not quite a grade A intellectual himself, gathered disparate thinkers, polished their ideas, and pushed them into the public sphere. In that time, no thinker in America has justified my belief in the practical impact of ideas, and their value to our society, so much as Nat did.

Nat was an intellectual par excellence, but he was also a boy from the Bronx: the son of a Yiddish émigré sewing-machine operator, a street kid who never lost that sensibility. And he applied his intellect to something very sensible, very real, indeed: how normal people lived; how they felt about their surroundings; how they used their values to make choices; and how policy might be shaped to help them improve their lives in the least intrusive, most empowering ways.