Allison Hoffman: Draft of History

Roundup: Talking About History

[Allison Hoffman is senior writer for Tablet Magazine.]

On April 15, 1962, Hannah Arendt sent a brief personal note to William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, thanking him for some flowers he had sent. It had been a rough winter for the political philosopher: Her husband, Heinrich Blücher, was suffering from a brain aneurysm, and Arendt had developed a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics she was given to treat a cold. Then, in March, a truck had plowed into a taxi she was taking through Central Park, resulting in a concussion, hemorrhages in both eyes, broken teeth, and fractured ribs. Nevertheless, in her note three weeks later to Shawn—who had assigned her to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem a year before, and was still awaiting her copy—Arendt sounded almost chirpy. “I am much better,” she wrote, in her blue-ballpoint cursive, spidery and cramped on cream-colored stationery, “and on the point of going back to work.”

Five months later, she was done. On Sept. 19, a sheaf of onion-skin pages arrived at The New Yorker’s office at 25 West 43rd Street, with the title, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report.” The manuscript was sent over to the typing pool, where it was copied onto heavy yellow bond, double-spaced, and then returned to Shawn for editing.

Meanwhile, a carbon copy was delivered to Arendt’s publisher, Viking Press. A lightly edited version of her manuscript was published as a book in May 1963 under the same title she’d picked for the New Yorker articles that were published in February and March but with the dramatically enhanced subtitle “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” The book, with revisions, has remained in print since. But it never reflected Shawn’s changes to Arendt’s draft, which was serialized in five issues of the magazine. So while The New Yorker remains almost reflexively associated with “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” the text that most people have in mind when they talk about Arendt’s report is not, in fact, the one that appeared in the magazine....

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