Clifton Fadiman had two paramount passions: savoring the best wines and obliterating his Jewishness. He wasn’t what is commonly called a “self-hating Jew.” It was more pragmatic than that. Like so many other first-generation American Jews, he saw his cultural heritage as an impediment—even a reproach—to the refined, upper-class WASP life he aspired to. Although clearly a doting daughter, Anne Fadiman is not an uncritical one as she examines her relationship with her father in The Wine Lover’s Daughter.
Born in Brooklyn in 1904 to Russian parents, Clifton Fadiman worked his way through Columbia University and achieved a sterling academic record. He might have joined the English department there had he not been told, “We have room for only one Jew, and we have chosen Mr. [Lionel] Trilling.” Thus rebuffed by academia, he used his formidable literary knowledge to become a public intellectual. By the time he was 28, he was editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster and a year later the book critic for The New Yorker. At 34, he began hosting the popular radio quiz show “Information Please.” From that point on, he was a bona-fide celebrity, one who would extend his genial wit and wisdom well into the burgeoning television age.
Anne Fadiman points out in great detail her father’s sexism and snobbery and marvels at the fact that—even when he was 80—he still asked her not to mention he was a Jew in the profile she wrote on him for Life magazine. Much of her chronicle is given over to her father’s informed obsession with wines and her attempts—ultimately unsuccessful—to become a wine enthusiast herself. Clifton Fadiman died at 95 in 1999, no doubt comforted in the fact that his children had gone to Harvard—which had been off limits to him—and that his daughter married a WASP.