Strikingly relevant and shrewdly observed, Mary McCarthy’s On the Contrary collects articles, talks, reviews, travel notes, a short story, and a personal reminiscence by the legendary writer and contrarian. Included is her review of Hannah Arendt’s seminal book, The Human Condition, a bitingly funny take on Simone de Beauvoir’s account of her visit to the United States in 1947, a candid essay addressing her experience with communism, and her no-holds-barred review of the Kinsey Report. McCarthy brings her deeply informed literary insights, provocative political arguments, and prescient cultural investigations to bear on everything from fiction to fashion, religion, sex, and politics.
Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) was an American critic, public intellectual, and author of more than two dozen books, including her New York Times bestseller, The Group. After graduating from Vassar in 1933 McCarthy moved to New York City and garnered attention as a cutting theater and book critic, contributing to a wide range of publications, such as the Nation, the New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, and the New York Review of Books. In the early 1930s she moved in “fellow-traveling” communist circles, but by the latter half of the decade she repudiated Soviet-style communism. She served on the editorial staff of the Partisan Review from 1937 to 1948. Her milieu included political scientist and philosopher Hannah Arendt with whom she developed a lifelong friendship.
During the 1940s and 1950s she was a critic of both McCarthyism and communism. She maintained her commitment to liberal critiques of culture and power to the end of her life, opposing the Vietnam War in the 1960s and covering the Watergate scandal hearings in the 1970s.
For her work, McCarthy won a number of awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Edward MacDowell Medal, and the National Medal for Literature. She died on October 25, 1989. The second volume of her autobiography was published posthumously in 1992 as Intellectual Memoirs: New York, 1936–1938. Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, 1949–1975 was published in 1995.
“Our saint, our umpire, our lit arbiter, our broadsword.”
“Once the state is looked upon as the source of rights, rather than their bound protector, freedom becomes conditional on the pleasure of the state.”
—from The Contagion of Ideas
Price: $15.95 (paperback); $9.99 (ebook)
Book dimensions: 5.25 x .6 x 8.25
Published: June 11, 2020