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Professor Berman

The Last Lecture of Minnesota’s Greatest Public Historian

2019
Author:

Hy Berman
With Jay Weiner

Professor Berman

BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE

 

Behind the scenes of Minnesota history, by way of the engaging life story of the state’s best-known and beloved political observer

 

Professor Hy Berman was, by most accounts, the face of public history in Minnesota for decades—a popular university professor, political observer, and familiar presence on PBS’s Almanac. Here readers encounter the Berman audiences and students loved, telling stories that are a close-up view of Minnesota history and a conversational self-portrait of a man often in the middle of that history.

 

"Professor Hy Berman’s ‘Last Lecture’ is an incredible lesson for anyone interested in Minnesota and Jewish history.  His stories are captivating, and details of his personal relationships, conversations, and experiences bring alive facts of history we all learned but never truly understood. This book should be required reading for any student of history—that is, each and every one of us."—Marcia Zimmerman, Alvin and June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair, Temple Israel, Minneapolis

Professor Hy Berman (1925–2015) was, by most accounts, the face of public history in Minnesota for many decades—a peerless political observer and labor historian, popular lecturer and university professor, and familiar presence on the Twin Cities PBS show Almanac, dependably interpreting Minnesota history—and making some of his own. In Professor Berman: The Last Lecture of Minnesota’s Greatest Public Historian, readers encounter the Hy Berman audiences and students loved, telling stories as only he could—stories that are at once a close-up view of Minnesota history and a conversational self-portrait of a man who often found himself in the middle of that history even as it was unfolding.

Berman came by his passion for history and politics naturally: as the “red diaper baby” of left-wing, Yiddish-speaking Polish immigrants in New York. With humor, sharp wit, and the insight of wisdom acquired over ninety years, he takes us back to that heady 1920s milieu that set him on a path that would one day lead to, among other adventures, a brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee, a role in a black student takeover on the University of Minnesota campus, and a lifelong alliance with Minnesota’s “Happy Warrior” for civil rights, Hubert Humphrey.

Featuring an all-star cast of the state’s politicians (from Humphrey to Rudy Perpich, Harold Stassen, Arne Carlson, and Jesse Ventura) and full of engaging, often surprising anecdotes, Berman’s “last lecture” describes a rich life devoted to teaching that reached far beyond the classroom—and that found the professor translating history for an avid TV audience, helping to appoint the state’s first female Supreme Court justice, and testifying at Minnesota’s landmark tobacco trial. Edited and with an Introduction and Afterword by long-time Twin Cities journalist Jay Weiner, Hy Berman’s final lecture is a strong and powerful contribution to Minnesota’s story.

Professor Berman

Hy Berman (1925–2015) was one of the most popular professors at the University of Minnesota, where he taught in the history department from 1961 until 2004. He regularly appeared on Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac, which solidified his role as the state’s leading public historian. A former colleague of Hubert Humphrey and advisor to Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich, he was a learned, avuncular, and congenial pundit on all things historical and political.

Jay Weiner is author of Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush League Boondoggles and This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount, both published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Professor Berman

Professor Hy Berman’s ‘Last Lecture’ is an incredible lesson for anyone interested in Minnesota and Jewish history. His stories are captivating, and details of his personal relationships, conversations, and experiences bring alive facts of history we all learned but never truly understood. This book should be required reading for any student of history—that is, each and every one of us.

Marcia Zimmerman, Alvin and June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair, Temple Israel, Minneapolis

We know more about Minnesota's history because of Hy Berman. If you watched Hy on television—and especially if you didn’t—you will learn a lot from this book.

Eric Eskola, co-host of Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac

A product of the Yiddish-speaking, red-diaper-baby Bronx, Hy Berman became the embodiment of what is best in Minnesota and its land-grant university. He lived, taught, modeled, and preached egalitarianism, public citizenship, intellectual honesty, and humility. Jay Weiner has done a great service to both history and letters in elegantly weaving this autobiography from the brilliant, vivid miscellany of writings and interviews that Berman left behind at his death. Anyone interested in labor history, higher education, the Jewish Left, and so many other subjects in Berman's questing mind will be grateful for this memoir.

Samuel G. Freedman, author of Letters to a Young Journalist

Professor Berman

Contents

Foreword: How It All Happened

Jay Weiner

1. Growing up Comrade

2. Leaving the Party, Entering the Academy

3. Becoming a Minnesotan

4. The Making of Hubert Humphrey

5. Rupees and Burps: Going International

6. “Rudy, You’re Full of Shit”

7. University Presidents (and a Few Crises)

8. Life as a Public Historian: The Almanac Years

In Conclusion: History through the Eyes of the Vanquished

Afterword: What He Didn’t Tell Me

Jay Weiner

Acknowledgments

Index