The Legacy of Nat Hentoff

David Lewis, the author of our book “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” has been weighing in on the life and work of New York writer Nat Hentoff, who recently died after a long and influential career as a journalist, jazz critic and First Amendment activist.

Lewis, who serves as metro editor at WNYC, spent six years making the documentary of the same, and then the oral history that we published. Both the movie and book explore Hentoff’s decades of work in alternative journalism through the lens of his greatest obsession, both musical and political – freedom.

As passionate about First Amendment rights as he was jazz, Hentoff was known for his contrarian political views, a legacy that Lewis said in a recent WNYC interview remains important for journalists today:

He really enjoyed challenging the orthodoxies of both the left and the right. He was anti-abortion for instance, just shocked and outraged his friends on the left, didn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose. He hated labels of all kinds, whether it was music or politics. But he called himself a lower-case libertarian for much of the end of his career. To me, he was really a champion of what we call critical thinking, which was really just the idea of being able to think for yourself and damn the consequences.

Lewis’ documentary was cited in a number of obituaries and appreciations written about Hentoff, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major publications.

Listen to the full interview here, purchase the doc here (trailer below) and, of course, check out the oral history of the same name here.