September 29, 2005
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Benjamin DeMott, professor of English, emeritus at Amherst College, died this morning at his home in Worthington, Mass. He was 81 years old.
Born on June 2, 1924 in Rockville Centre, N.Y., DeMott studied as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, where he received a B.A. degree in 1949. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1953. He was married in 1946 to Margaret Craig, who survives him, as do four children and several grandchildren.
DeMott taught at Amherst from 1951 until his retirement in 1990. A trenchant observer of the American scene, DeMott wrote several works of cultural criticism, including Junk Politics: The Trashing of the American Mind (2005), Killer Woman Blues: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Gender and Power (2000) and The Trouble With Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Race (1995) .
When The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Class, was published in 1990, Barbara Ehrenreich praised it in The New York Times as “imaginative, challenging and a pleasure to read. For anyone ready to cut through our collective delusions and begin the long overdue talk about class, there could not be a more congenial conversationalist than Mr. DeMott.”
DeMott recalled his style of teaching in an essay titled “English and the Promise of Happiness,” published in 1991, shortly after his retirement from Amherst. “As for methods: they are simplicity itself. The armory boasts a few conversation-generating questions, and little else.” A prolific writer, DeMott was known as a sharp social critic. His essays and reviews appeared in The New York Review of Books, Harper's, Esquire, Saturday Review, The Atlantic Monthly and Life, among many others, here and abroad.