Lee Siegel (cultural critic)

Lee Siegel (born 1957) is an American writer and cultural critic who has written for Harper's, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and other publications.[1] He is the author of seven books of nonfiction and has received a National Magazine Award.

Lee Siegel
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Alma materColumbia University
SubjectsCulture, Literature, Society

Early life and careerEdit

Siegel was born in The Bronx, New York. He received his BA from the Columbia University School of General Studies and his MA and MPhil from Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

He worked as an editor at The New Leader and ARTnews before turning to writing full-time in 1998. Siegel has been the book critic for The Nation, art critic for Slate, television critic for and senior editor of The New Republic,[2] staff writer for Talk magazine, staff writer for Harper's, contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, associate editor of Raritan, senior columnist for The Daily Beast, and weekly columnist for The New York Observer. In 2011 Siegel served as one of three judges for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award.[3]

He is the author of seven books: Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination (2006), Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television (2007), Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (2008), Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly (2011), Harvard Is Burning (2011), Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence (2016), and The Draw (2017).


In 2002 Siegel received the National Magazine Award in the category "Reviews and Criticism".[1] Jeff Bercovici, writing in Media Life Magazine, quoted the award citation, which called the essays "models of original thinking and passionate writing... [Siegel's] tough-minded yet generous criticism is prose of uncommon power—work that dazzles readers by drawing them into the play of ideas and the enjoyment of lively, committed debate".[4]

In 2007 Caryn James, commenting on Not Remotely Controlled in the New York Times, said that "at their best, Siegel’s scattershot observations offer a kind of drive-by brilliance," but that he often "wildly overstates his case or ignores inconvenient evidence."[5]

Siegel's 2008 critique of Web culture, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, was called by Janet Maslin in the New York Times "rigorously sane, fair, and illuminating". Maslin noted that, with occasional lapses, it "brings dead-on accuracy to depicting the quietly insinuating ways in which the Internet can blow your mind".[6]

In 2011, Donna Rifkind, writing in New York Times Book Review, reviewed Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly, calling Siegel "a tireless adversary, battling wrong-headed people and worn-out ideas" but also saying "there is little practical counsel here."[7]

Siegel's 2017 memoir, The Draw, was praised in the New York Times Book Review by Jerald Walker as "brilliant." Walker went on to say, "An assortment of lively characters, hard-edged humor, rich psychological portraits and searing social commentary, The Draw is spellbinding, a coming-of-age tour de force."[8]


Deceptive posting and suspensionEdit

In September 2006, Siegel was suspended from The New Republic after an internal investigation determined he was participating in misleading comments in the magazine's "Talkback" section in response to criticisms of his blog postings at The New Republic's website.[9] The comments were made through the device of a "sock puppet" dubbed "sprezzatura", who, as one reader noted, was a consistently vigorous defender of Siegel, and who specifically denied being Siegel when challenged by another commenter in "Talkback". In response to readers who had criticized Siegel's negative comments about TV talk show host Jon Stewart, 'sprezzatura' wrote, "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep".[10] The New Republic posted an apology and shut down Siegel's blog. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Siegel dismissed the incident as a "prank". He resumed writing for The New Republic in early 2007.[11]

Student loan default op-edEdit

In June 2015, Siegel wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times entitled "Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans",[12] in which he defended defaulting on the loans he received for living expenses[13][14] while on full scholarship[13][14] and working his way through college and graduate school at Columbia University, writing that “[t]he millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.”[12]

Economist Susan Dynarski wrote that Siegel is not typical of student loan defaulters both in that the typical student-loan recipient attends a public university and in that only two percent of those borrowing to fund a graduate degree default on their loans.[15] Conservative political commentator Kevin D. Williamson, writing in National Review, called it "theft,"[16] saying that "an Ivy League degree or three is every much an item of conspicuous consumption and a status symbol as a Lamborghini."[16] Senior Business and Economics Correspondent for Slate Jordan Weissman called it "deeply irresponsible" to suggest that students should consider defaulting on their loans and said that The New York Times should apologize for the piece.[17] Siegel's original article was also criticized in Business Insider and MarketWatch.[18][19] Siegel appeared to further discuss the article on Yahoo! Finance.[20]

Personal lifeEdit

Siegel lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.[21]


  • Falling upwards : essays in defense of the imagination. 2006.
  • Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television (2007)
  • Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (2008)
  • Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly (2011)
  • Harvard Is Burning (2011)
  • "Pure evil : Jo Nesbø and the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction". The New Yorker. 90 (12): 38–43. May 12, 2014.
  • Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence (2016)
  • The Draw (2017)


  1. ^ a b "Lee Siegel". The New York Review of Books. nybooks.com. Archived from the original on April 8, 2010. Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  2. ^ "Lee Siegel". Thenation.com. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  3. ^ "2011 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award". PEN America. Retrieved 12 June 2015.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Bercovici, Jeff (May 2, 2002). "Atlantic rises to the occasion". Media Life Magazine. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  5. ^ James, Caryn (July 22, 2007). "TV Guide". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 2015-06-15.
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet (January 17, 2008). "Spinning Out into the Pileup on the Information Superhighway". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-06-14.
  7. ^ Rifkind, Donna (July 29, 2011). "The Age of Anti-Serious Seriousness". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 2015-06-14. Print version July 31, 2011, in the Sunday Book Review.
  8. ^ Walker, Jerald (May 12, 2017). "The Short List: Mothers and Sons". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 2018-07-28. Print version May 14, 2017, in the Sunday Book Review.
  9. ^ Parker, James (September 10, 2006). "'We see you, Lee. We see you.' - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  10. ^ Aspan, Maria (September 4, 2006). "New Republic Suspends an Editor for Attacks on Blog". New York Times. pp. Section C, Page 4.
  11. ^ Meyer, David (May 29, 2008). "Raging against the internet machine". ZDNet. Retrieved 2015-12-14.
  12. ^ a b Siegel, Lee (June 6, 2015). "Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  13. ^ a b Weissmann, Jordan (June 8, 2015). "The New York Times Should Apologize for the Awful Op-Ed It Just Ran on Student Loans". Slate. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  14. ^ a b Lyster, Lauren (June 8, 2015). "Interview with Lee Siegel: Why one man defaulted on his student loans and suggests you should too". Yahoo News. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  15. ^ Dynarski, Susan (June 11, 2015). "Student Loans and Defaults: The Facts". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  16. ^ a b Williamson, Kevin D. (June 9, 2015). "Student-Loan Deadbeats: Fashionable Theft". National Review. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  17. ^ Dynarski, Susan (2015-06-11). "Student Loans and Defaults: The Facts". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  18. ^ Jackson, Abby. "New York Times op-ed writer who defaulted on student loans differs from many borrowers in one big way". Business Insider. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  19. ^ Berman, Jillian. "Defaulting on student loans is still a bad idea". MarketWatch. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  20. ^ "Why Lee Siegel is defaulting on his college loans". finance.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  21. ^ Lee Siegel , The Huffington Post. Accessed February 6, 2012. "Lee Siegel is the author, most recently, of Are You Serious: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly, just out from HarperCollins."

External linksEdit