Obituary - Marshall Berman

September 26, 2013

An American political scientist and social critic whose writings were acclaimed by Christopher Hitchens as “scholarly but jargon-free, anchored in modern references but with a strong sense of history, and animated by a generous sympathy” has died.

Marshall Berman was born in the South Bronx, New York – in a neighbourhood that was later partly destroyed to build an expressway – on 24 November 1940. His parents ran a business in the famously radical garment trade in Times Square – an area he would celebrate many years later in his 2006 book, On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square.

A passionate New Yorker, Professor Berman was educated at the Bronx High School of Science and Columbia University before going on to a PhD at Harvard University (1968). It was during his undergraduate years in 1959, at a time when Soviet communism had been widely discredited by the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, that he came across Karl Marx’s early Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

It proved to be an almost overwhelming emotional experience. An individual and notably optimistic style of “Marxist humanism”, rooted in the American progressive tradition, was to remain Professor Berman’s core analytical tool for the rest of his life.

Even before finishing his doctorate, he joined the faculty at the City College of New York, where he went on to become a distinguished professor of political science and to help set up the Center for Worker Education in Manhattan, enabling working adults to study for degrees.

Although his books included The Politics of Authenticity (1970) and Adventures in Marxism (1999), Professor Berman was most acclaimed for his 1982 work All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, a much-translated celebration of modern city life ranging from Dickens’ London and Joyce’s Dublin to Baudelaire’s Paris and Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg. He contributed an introduction to the latest Penguin edition of Marx’s Communist Manifesto (2011) and was at work on a book examining “the romance of public space” all the way from the Bible and ancient Greeks to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Earlier this year, Professor Berman delivered the ninth Lewis Mumford Lecture on Urbanism, “Emerging From the Ruins”, where he used the examples of Paris and New York to examine “how much of urban creativity grows out of urban disaster and disintegration”. He died of a heart attack while having breakfast in a favourite diner on 11 September and is survived by his wife Shellie and two children.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips