Lee Siegel (born 1957) is a New York City 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.

Early life and career

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 for 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 TV Guide's Camryn James, commenting on Not Remotely Controlled, says 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...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 suspension

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-ed

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]

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] Kevin Williamson, writing in the 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 & Economics Correspondent for Slate Jordan Weissman called it "deeply irresponsible"[13] to suggest that students should consider defaulting on their loans and said that the New York Times should apologize for the piece.

Personal life

Siegel lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.[17]


  1. ^ a b "The New York Review of Books: Lee Siegel". Nybooks.com. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  2. ^ "Lee Siegel". Thenation.com. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  3. ^ "2011 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award". PEN America. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Bercovici, Jeff. "Atlantic rises to the occasion". Media Life Magazine. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  5. ^ James, Camryn. "Not Remotely Controlled". TV Guide. Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Spinning Out Into the Pileup on the Information Superhighway". New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Rifkind, Donna. "The Age of Anti-Serious Seriousness". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  8. ^ content
  9. ^ Parker, James (2006-09-10). "'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 (2008-05-29). "Raging against the internet machine". ZDNet. Retrieved 2015-12-14. 
  12. ^ a b Siegel, Lee. "Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans". New York Times. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c Weissmann, Jordan. "The New York Times Should Apologize for the Awful Op-Ed It Just Ran on Student Loans". Slate. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Lyster, Lauren (8 June 2015). "Interview with Lee Siegel: Why one man defaulted on his student loans and suggests you should too". Yahoo News. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  15. ^ Dynarski, Susan. "Student Loans and Defaults: The Facts". New York Times. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  16. ^ a b Williamson, Kevin. "Student-Loan Deadbeats: Fashionable Theft". National Review. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  17. ^ 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 links