When John Silber died, age eighty-six, at the end of September, he was at work on an essay for The New Criterion. I was very much looking forward to the piece. It was to be a review of Martin Duberman’s new biography of the left-wing historian Howard Zinn (1922–2010), the author of the anti-American bestseller A People’s History of the United States. John had often crossed swords with Zinn at Boston University, where Zinn was a professor and where John reigned as President from 1971 to 1996 and then as Chancellor until 2003. Duberman’s biography is certain to be an exercise in hagiography, probably of the fawning variety, and John’s anatomy of the book and its subject promised to be a piquant addition to his library of salubrious polemic.

I deeply regret that John did not complete the review, but I was not surprised. I had spoken to him just a couple of weeks before his ...