Robert Jay Lifton has been a witness, in the broadest, most profound, meaning of that word to many of the most traumatic events or movements of the past century: Nazism, Hiroshima, the Vietnam war, political and religious cults, and so much more. He’s written dozens of books—and several articles for The Nation—but has not written a memoir, but now his book, Witness to an Extreme Century, will be appearing in mid-June from The Free Press.
It’s an excellent and important work, and already received a hard-to-get rave from Kirkus Reviews, which hailed it as “a call for a moral awakening by a deeply compassionate chronicler of our times.” Lifton was also the subject of a film released last year, Robert Jay Lifton: Nazi Doctors.
I’ll have more to say about the memoir at a later date, while admitting that I can’t claim to be unbiased. I’ve known Robert for three decades, worked for a couple of years at his research center in New York, attended numerous games at Shea Stadium between his Dodgers (he hails from Brooklyn) and my Mets, and co-authored two books with him, Hiroshima in America and Who Owns Deaths? (on capital punishment), and many articles.
Just last weekend, I saw him in New York (he now lives in Cambridge) at a memorial for his beloved wife Betty Jean Lifton, who passed away a few months back, and he remains fully engaged in current issues. For example, here’s a piece he’s just written for the IHT and New York Times on Hiroshima and Fukushima. Robert may have coined the term “psychic numbing,” but his own sensitivity and capacity for empathy remains undiminished.