April 23, 2003: Reading Room

Social critic
Theodore Roszak *58 explores intolerance in new novel about gay Jewish writer

By Andrea Gollin ’88

Photo: A history professor, Roszak coined the term “counterculture.” (KAREN PREUSS)

After his initial attempts to publish fiction in the late 1950s were unsuccessful, Theodore Roszak *58 turned to scholarly writing. But Roszak, a historian, noted social critic, and the author or editor of 13 nonfiction books, continued to write novels in his spare time, and in the mid-1970s got his first one published. His sixth, The Devil and Daniel Silverman (Leapfrog Press), came out in January.

A history professor at California State University—Hayward, Roszak views his work in fiction and scholarly social criticism as different ways to explore many of the same themes. The Devil and Daniel Silverman, a satirical novel that focuses on the damaging effects of intolerance, functions as social commentary.

A gay Jewish novelist with a career in “free-fall descent,” Danny Silverman is invited to lecture at an evangelical Christian college in northern Minnesota. A huge snowstorm traps him at the college, and he becomes the guest of some inhospitable hosts, many of whom believe that homosexuals are the incarnation of the Antichrist. Silverman ends up defending his liberal values, as well as his life.

Roszak began writing the novel during the Clinton impeachment. “It started as a very angry tirade,” he explains. “I felt that people were using Clinton’s misdeeds to launch an attack on the liberal establishment, and I thought it might actually work. It really scared me.” As he worked on the manuscript, he realized that he didn’t want to represent the issues as black and white. “I wanted the confrontations to be more interesting,” says Roszak, who hopes the book appeals to “dispirited or enraged liberals.”

The author of the 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture about the 1960s, Roszak is credited with coining the term “counterculture.” That book established his reputation as a social critic and speaker on topics relating to the 1960s, the baby boom generation, and liberalism in American politics. His other works range widely in subject matter, exploring topics such as the use and abuse of technology and the nature of aging, and include The Cult of Information (1986), The Voice of the Earth (1992), and Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders (2000). “I am fascinated by issues concerning the rightness and rationality of western culture,” he explains.

It was Roszak’s interest in writing fiction that led him to study history, with its “reservoir of stories,” he says. As a student in college and graduate school, he felt that history was one of the few fields that was retaining its humanistic focus rather than becoming more pseudo-scientific and methodologically esoteric.

Two of his novels, The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein (1995) and Flicker (1991), about the film industry, are historical fiction. Both have been optioned for motion pictures.

For now, Roszak is sticking to writing novels and has no plans for future nonfiction. Fiction, he says, “is more engaging.”

Andrea Gollin ’88 is a writer in Miami.


The Gallup Guide: Reality Check for 21st Century Churches — George Gallup Jr. ’53 and D. Michael Lindsay GS (Group). As Americans are increasingly interested in spiritual matters, the authors developed this handbook to help local church leaders harness and channel this religious yearning. The reproducible surveys included in the book are intended to help them learn more about their congregations’ spiritual needs and opinions on religious topics. The guide also includes advice for sampling public opinion. Gallup is chairman of the George H. Gallup International Institute. Lindsay is pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Princeton.

On the Sweet Spot: Stalking the Effortless Present — Richard Keefe ’80 (Simon & Schuster). This book looks at how athletes change their mental state to become more absorbed in the moment — often referred to as “being in the zone.” Keefe, who describes some of the brain science behind this mental state, has found that “the zone” resembles a meditative state. Keefe is a clinical psychologist, neuroscience researcher, and the director of sports psychology at Duke University.

Secret Missions to Cuba: Fidel Castro, Bernardo Benes, and Cuban Miami — Robert M. Levine *67 (Palgrave). A history of Cuban-American relations in the second half of the 20th century. Levine examines the politics of Cuba’s exiles and the role of Bernardo Benes, a Cuban-American lawyer who acted as intermediary with Castro during the Reagan and Carter administrations. Levine is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami. By Jeanne Alnot ’04

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