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Commentary Magazine:

An Inventory of Its Records at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Commentary (New York, N.Y.)
Title: Commentary Magazine Archive
Dates: 1942-2004 (1957-1995)
Extent: 133 boxes (55.42 linear feet)
Abstract: The Commentary Magazine Archive comprises editorial correspondence, administrative files, Contentions newsletter issues, newspaper clippings of Norman Podhoretz's New York Post columns, and a small portion of the proofs, galleys, and original manuscripts submitted for publication.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-05223
Language: English, Hebrew, French, and German
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift, 2011 (11-07-017-G)
Processed by: Micah Erwin and Steve Mielke, 2012

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Organizational History

Founded in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee, under the editorship of Eliot E. Cohen (editor from 1945 to 1959), Commentary magazine developed into the leading postwar journal of Jewish affairs. The periodical strove to construct a new American Jewish identity while processing the events of the Holocaust, the formation of the State of Israel, and the Cold War. The successor to the Contemporary Jewish Record, Commentary magazine was given the mission of providing a nonpartisan focus on Jewish affairs and contemporary issues but quickly attracted a readership far wider than its intended Jewish audience. The founding intellectuals of the magazine wrote their way into the American mainstream, championing the civil rights movement but eventually recoiling from the perceived excesses of the 1960s counter-cultural movement.
Commentary exercised a significant influence on American culture and politics and was at the forefront of both postwar American liberalism and the rise of neo-conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s. Commentary played an important role in advancing the careers of a number of influential writers including Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. It published the first English translation of The Diary of Ann Frank (May 1952) and its reviewers helped to bring critical issues and significant publications into the public light. Though often controversial in its time (e.g., Norman Podhoretz, "My Negro Problem-And Ours," 1963), numerous articles are now considered landmarks of American intellectual history.
Under the editorship of Norman Podhoretz from 1960 to 1995, the magazine ultimately exercised as great an influence on the political right in the post-1960s era as it did on the political left in the post-World War II era. Reacting against the sexual revolution, the women's and gay rights movements, and home-grown anti-Americanism, Commentary articulated a new political agenda known as neoconservatism.
Commentary's influence on American culture and politics gradually diminished following the end of the Cold War. Norman Podhoretz's successor, Neal Kozodoy, served as editor from 1995 until 2009. In 2007, the magazine ended its affiliation with the American Jewish Committee and became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit enterprise. Norman Podhoretz's son, John Podhoretz, assumed editorial control in 2009.


Abrams, Nathan. Commentary Magazine, 1945-59: "A Journal of Significant Thought and Opinion." London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007.
______________.Norman Podhoretz and Commentary Magazine: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons. New York: Continuum, 2010.
Balint, Benjamin. Running Commentary: The Contentious Magazine That Transformed the Jewish Left into the Neoconservative Right. New York: Public Affairs, 2010.
Friedman, Murray. Commentary in American Life. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2005.
Jeffers, Thomas L. Norman Podhoretz: A Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Podhoretz, Norman. Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Scope and Contents

The Commentary Magazine Archive is chiefly comprised of editorial correspondence along with smaller volumes of business files, manuscripts, and clippings. The archive's contents date from 1942 to 2004 and are arranged in five series: I. Editorial Correspondence, 1957-1997; II. Administrative Files, 1942-2004; III. Contentions newsletter issues, 1982-1989; IV. Manuscripts, 1946-1978; and V. Clippings of Norman Podhoretz's New York Post Columns, 1985-1989.The series are ordered by size, largest to smallest in volume, and overall reflect the arrangement of the original organizational structure of the archive. The original order of items within each series is also largely preserved.
Series I. Editorial Correspondence, 1957-1997 (116 document boxes), constitutes the bulk of the archive. It includes more than 23,000 individual incoming letters. Correspondence is arranged chronologically by the year (or date span) then alphabetically by incoming correspondent name. The correspondence mainly consists of article and review proposals and letters of acceptance or rejection. The years 1957 to 1969 lack correspondent names S and U-Z. Mimeographed, carbon copied, or photocopied outgoing correspondence is stapled to incoming correspondence. Examples of incoming correspondence not related to article and review proposals include letters from organizations soliciting support (financial or otherwise), invitations to symposiums, conferences, and legal disputes. Examples of outgoing correspondence includes letters soliciting articles and book reviews and memoranda between Commentary staff (primarily Norman Podhoretz and Neal Kozodoy) and staff of the American Jewish Committee. Manuscript drafts occasionally accompany article proposals, but are a rare exception. An index of works found in the correspondence is provided at the end of the finding aid. The index is arranged alphabetically by author and identifies the location and state of each work.
Prominent correspondents include: Elliott Abrams, Joseph Adelson, Robert Alter, James Baldwin, David Bar-Illan, Robert L. Bartley, Arnold Beichman, Daniel Bell, William John Bennett, Herbert B. Berkowitz, Donald M. Blinken, Georges Borchardt, Eric Breindel, Lawrence A. Chickering, Kathleen Cleaver, Arthur A. Cohen, Elliot E. Cohen, Gerson D. Cohen, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Martin Edelston, Daniel Judah Elazar, Joseph Epstein, Maurice Friedberg, Milton Friedman, Murray Friedman, Carl Gershman, Newt Gingrich, Nathan Glazer, Robert Bernard Glynn, Robert Gordis, Hillel Halkin, Owen Harries, Paul Hollander, Sidney Hook, Charles Horner, David Horowitz, Erich Isaac, Dan Jacobson, George Jochnowitz, Jacob Katz, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger, Hilton Kramer, Irving Kristol, Walter Laqueur, Melvin J. Lasky, Leslie Lenkowsky, Navrozov Lev, Bernard Lewis, Guenter Lewy, Martin Seymour Lipset, Kenneth Schuyler Lynn, Hyam Maccoby, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lev Navrozov, Richard John Neuhaus, Jacob Neusner, Robert A. Nisbet, Michael Novak, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Pipes, Arch Puddington, Chaim Raphael, Ronald Reagan, Robert A. Riesman, Frederick P. Rose, A. M. Rosenthal, Eugene V. Rostow, Stanley Rothman, William Safire, Harvey B. Schechter, Stephen Schwartz, Philip Roth, Jonathan D. Sarna, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Shaw,Max Singer, Miro M. Todorovich, David Vital, George F. Will, James Q. Wilson, Renee Winegarten, and David R. Zukerman.
Series II. Administrative Files, 1942-2004 (11 document boxes), records the daily business and administrative activities of Commentary. This series is arranged alphabetically by subject and includes advertising reports, financial reports, minutes, circulation analysis, budgets, editorial complaints, editor-search documents, endorsements, legal claims and disputes, files regarding Norman Podhoretz (including many from his 1995 retirement dinner), orders, presentations, promotions, files of the publications committee, subscriptions, surveys, documents relating to the 1995 publication, What to do About…A Collection of Essays from Commentary Magazine, and more. Correspondence is interspersed throughout the series and there is some overlap in content with files in Series I. One box of loose administrative files was re-integrated with the main body of files after arrival at the Ransom Center.
Series III. comprises issues from the newsletter Contentions spanning 1982-1990 (3 document boxes). Each issue is accompanied by a photocopy of the typed draft of Neal Kozodoy's segment for that issue along with related research materials. Contentions was the monthly newsletter of the Committee for the Free World, an anti-Communist think tank founded in 1981and discontinued shortly after 1989. The collection does not represent a complete run from 1982 to 1989 as some months are lacking. The series is arranged chronologically. An index of drafts provided at the end of the finding aid identifies the box and folder location of each essay. The index is arranged alphabetically by title.
Series IV. Manuscripts, 1946-1978 (2 document boxes), includes corrected drafts, galleys, and page proofs from a small number of articles published in Commentary. Authors include Hannah Arendt, Isaac Babel, Pearl Buck, John Dewey, Leslie A. Fiedler, Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, Chalmers Johnson, Arthur Koestler, Guenter Lewy, Thomas Mann, George Orwell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Paul Tillich, and Arnold J. Toynbee. The series is organized alphabetically by author. All essays published in Commentary are available online through the Commentary Magazine website's archive.
Series V. contains complete clippings of Norman Podhoretz's New York Post columns from 1985 to 1989 (1 document box). Included are a mix of photocopied clippings and originals. The clippings are arranged chronologically and were originally housed each in their own numbered folder (1-204) with three additional unnumbered clippings from Podhoretz's first three posts. They are now grouped within six folders. An index of his posts is provided at the end of the finding aid. The index is arranged alphabetically by title and identifies the box and folder location of each clipping.

Related Material

Ransom Center holdings that complement Commentary and relate to literary content, correspondence, documentation on subjects in common with the archive, or that connect with the materials in some other way include:
  • Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records
  • Bernard Malamud Papers
  • Dan Jacobson Papers (1994 Accretion)
  • Michael Josselson Papers
  • Norman Mailer Papers
Several other repositories also hold materials related to Commentary:
The American Jewish Committee Records are divided between YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York (Record Group 347, GEN-12 and GEN 10) and the American Jewish Committee Archives and Library, New York. YIVO holds only a scattered selection of records. AJC Archives and Library hold the bulk of the collection; however they are restricted and not open to the public.
American Jewish Archives, HUC-JIR, Cincinnati, Ohio, holds the papers of several significant figures in the history of Commentary including Jessie Bloom, Herbert B. Ehrmann, Henry Hurwitz, and Trude Weiss-Rosmarin.
The Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, holds the papers of Norman Podhoretz.

Separated Material

The following items have been separated and cataloged in the Harry Ransom Book Collection:
Nine volumes of titles published by Orwell Press.
Issues of Commentary Study Guide (January-December 1970, lacking November issue) with multiple duplicates.
Commentary indices (November 1945-June 1991) with multiple duplicates.
Issues of Contentions journal from August 1981 to September 1986 (lacking only the April-May 1983, November 1984, April 1998 and February 1986 issues) with some duplicates.
An envelope containing black plastic letters which spell out the word "Commentary" and a black placard bearing a miniature Torah case and verses from Joshua 1:18 and Tehilim 45:5 have been removed to the Ransom Center's Personal Effects Collection.

Index Terms


Abrams, Elliott, 1948- .
Alter, Robert.
Arendt, Hannah, 1906-1975.
Bell, Daniel, 1919-2011.
Berger, Peter L., 1929- .
Cohen, Elliot E., 1899-1959.
Dawidowicz, Lucy S.
Edelston, Martin.
Epstein, Joseph, 1937- .
Friedman, Murray, 1926- .
Himmelfarb, Gertrude.
Hook, Sidney, 1902-1989.
Iannone, Carol.
Katz, Jacob, 1904-1998.
Kirkpatrick, Jeane J.
Kissinger, Henry, 1923- .
Kristol, Irving.
Laqueur, Walter, 1921- .
Lenkowsky, Leslie, 1946- .
Lipset, Seymour Martin.
Moynihan, Daniel P. (Daniel Patrick), 1927-2003.
Murdoch, Rupert, 1931- .
Netanyahu, Binyamin.
Neusner, Jacob, 1932- .
Nisbet, Robert A.
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994.
Novak, Michael.
Ozick, Cynthia.
Pipes, Daniel, 1949- .
Reagan, Ronald.
Roth, Philip.
Singer, Isaac Bashevis, 1904-1991.
Sontag, Susan, 1933-2004.
Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012.
Winegarten, Renee.
Wisse, Ruth R.
Yoder, Edwin M. (Edwin Milton), 1934- .
Zukerman, David R.


American Enterprise Institute for Policy Research.
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
American Jewish Committee.
American Spectator.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Coalition for a Democratic Majority.
Council on Foreign Relations.
Heritage Foundation.
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.
Hudson Institute.
International Communication Agency Reception Center.
League for Industrial Democracy.
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
National Endowment for the Humanities.
National Strategy Information Center.
New Republic.
New York Times.
Newsweek, Inc.
Partisan Review.
Policy Review.
Smith Richardson Foundation.
Social Democrats, U.S.A.
United States Information Agency.
World Without War Council of the United States, Inc.


American Jewish Committee.
Civil rights--United States.
Communism--United States.
Conservatism--United States.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945).
Industrial policy--United States.
Jews--United States--Intellectual life.
Judaism--United States.
Judaism--Relations--Catholic Church.
Labor unions--United States.
Liberalism--United States.
Minorities--United States.
Public welfare.
Religion in the public schools--United States.
Social values--Congresses.
United States--Intellectual Life--20th Century.
United States--Foreign relations
Women's Liberation Movement.
Women's rights.

Document Types

Galley proofs.
Legal documents.
Page proofs.

Container List