Norman Cousins (June 24, 1915 – November 30, 1990) was an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate.
Early life and education
Cousins was born in West Hoboken, New Jersey, which later in 1925 became Union City. At age 11, he was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis and placed in a sanatorium. Despite this, he was an athletic youth, and he claimed that as a young boy he “set out to discover exuberance.”
Cousins attended Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx, New York City, graduating on February 3, 1933. He edited the high school paper, "The Square Deal," where his editing abilities were already in evidence. Cousins received a bachelor's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.
Career as journalist and editor
He joined the staff of the New York Evening Post (now the New York Post) in 1934, and in 1935 he was hired by Current History as a book critic. He later ascended to the position of managing editor. He also befriended the staff of the Saturday Review of Literature (later renamed Saturday Review), which had its offices in the same building, and later joined the staff of that publication as well by 1940. He was named editor-in-chief in 1942, a position he would hold until 1972. Under his direction, circulation of the publication increased from 20,000 to 650,000.
Cousins's philosophy toward his work was exemplified by his instructions to his staff “not just to appraise literature, but to try to serve it, nurture it, safeguard it.” Cousins believed that “there is a need for writers who can restore to writing its powerful tradition of leadership in crisis.”
Political views and activism
Politically, Cousins was a tireless advocate of liberal causes, such as nuclear disarmament and world peace, which he promoted through his writings in Saturday Review. In a 1984 forum at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “Quest for Peace,” Cousins recalled the long editorial he wrote on August 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Titled “The Modern Man is Obsolete,” Cousins, who stated that he felt "the deepest guilt" over the bomb's use on human beings, discussed in the editorial the social and political implications of the atomic bomb and nuclear power. He rushed to get it published the next day in the Review, and the response was considerable, as it was reprinted in newspapers around the country and enlarged into a book that was reprinted in different languages.
Despite his role as an advocate of liberalism, he was against women entering the workforce. In 1939, upon learning that the number of women in the workforce was close to the number of unemployed males, he offered this solution “Simply fire the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression”. However, this was not a viable solution, because men were not willing or trained to enter many professions, like nursing and teaching, they were occupied mostly by women at the time. In addition, many women had no choice but to work, because they were the sole source of income for their families.
In the 1950s, Cousins played a prominent role in bringing the Hiroshima Maidens, a group of twenty-five Hibakusha, to the United States for medical treatment.
In the 1960s, he began the American-Soviet Dartmouth Conferences for peace process.
Cousins also wrote a collection of non-fiction books on the same subjects, such as the 1953 Who Speaks for Man? , which advocated a World Federation and nuclear disarmament. He also served as president of the World Federalist Association and chairman of the Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy, which in the 1950s warned that the world was bound for a nuclear holocaust if the threat of the nuclear arms race was not stopped. Cousins became an unofficial ambassador in the 1960s, and his facilitating communication between the Holy See, the Kremlin, and the White House helped lead to the Soviet-American test ban treaty, for which he was thanked by President John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII, the latter of whom awarded him his personal medallion. Cousins was also awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Peace Award in 1963, the Family Man of the Year Award in 1968, the United Nations Peace Medal in 1971, and the Niwano Peace Prize in 1990. He also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1972 to 1975. His proudest moment by his own reckoning, however, was when Albert Einstein called him to Princeton University to discuss issues of nuclear disarmament and world federalism.
Illness and recovery
Cousins also served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he long believed were the key to human beings’ success in fighting illness. It was a belief he maintained even as he battled heart disease, which he fought both by taking massive doses of Vitamin C and, according to him, by training himself to laugh. He wrote a collection of best-selling non-fiction books on illness and healing, as well as a 1980 autobiographical memoir, Human Options: An Autobiographical Notebook. Late in life Cousins was diagnosed with a form of arthritis then called Marie-Strumpell's disease (ankylosing spondylitis), although this diagnosis is currently in doubt and it has been suggested that Cousins may actually have had reactive arthritis. His struggle with this illness is detailed in the book and movie Anatomy of an Illness.
Told that he had little chance of surviving, Cousins developed a recovery program incorporating megadoses of Vitamin C, along with a positive attitude, love, faith, hope, and laughter induced by Marx Brothers films. "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he reported. "When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."
Cousins was portrayed by actor Ed Asner in a 1984 television movie, Anatomy of an Illness, which was based on Cousins's 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing. Initially Cousins was not pleased with the casting of Asner, due to the fact that they had no physical resemblance to each other, but once the film was completed, Cousins was said to tolerate the casting, according to Asner.
Cousins received the Albert Schweitzer Prize in 1990. He died of heart failure on November 30, 1990, in Los Angeles, California, having survived years longer than his doctors predicted: 10 years after his first heart attack, 26 years after his collagen illness, and 36 years after his doctors first diagnosed his heart disease.
He and his wife Ellen raised four daughters: Andrea Cousins, Amy Cousins, Candis Kerns, and Sarah Kit Shapiro. He is buried at the Mt. Lebanon Jewish Cemetery in New Jersey, alongside his wife and parents.
An obituary containing further information, mainly of his editing career, was published by the New York Times in the December 2, 1990, edition.
- Modern Man Is Obsolete (1945)
- Writing for Love or Money: Thirty-Five Essays Reprinted from The Saturday Review of Literature (1949)
- Who Speaks for Man? (1953)
- "In God We Trust"; The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (1958)
- Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné (1960)
- In Place of Folly (1962)
- Present Tense; an American Editor's Odyssey (1967)
- Great American Essays (1967)
- Improbable Triumvirate: John F. Kennedy, Pope John, Nikita Khrushchev (1972) ISBN 978-0-393-05396-8
- The Celebration of Life; A Dialogue on Immortality and Infinity (1974) ISBN 978-0-060-61591-8
- Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration (1979) ISBN 978-0-393-01252-1
- Human Options: An Autobiographical Notebook (1981) ISBN 978-0-393-33254-4
- La volonté de guérir (1981) ISBN 978-2020055048
- The Physician in Literature (1982) ISBN 978-0-030-59653-7
- The Healing Heart: Antidotes to Panic and Helplessness (1983) ISBN 978-0-393-01816-5
- The Words of Albert Schweitzer (Words of Series) (1984) ISBN 978-0-937-85841-7
- Albert Schweitzer's Mission: Healing and Peace (1985) with Schweitzer ISBN 978-0-393-02238-4
- Nobel Prize Conversations: With Sir John Eccles, Roger Sperry, Ilya Prigogine, Brian Josephson (1985) ISBN 978-0-933-07102-5
- The Human Adventure: A Camera Chronicle (1986) ISBN 978-0-933-07107-0
- The Pathology of Power (1987) ISBN 978-0-393-30541-8
- The Republic of Reason: The Personal Philosophies of the Founding Fathers (1988) ISBN 9780062501615
- Master Photographs: Master Photographs From PFA Exhibitions 1959-67 (1988) ISBN 978-0-933-64212-6
- Head First: The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit (1989) ISBN 978-0-140-13965-5
- Mind Over Illness (1991) ISBN 978-1-555-25425-4
- Why Man Explores (2005) ISBN 978-1-410-22031-8
Cousins received the inaugural Helmerich Award in 1985. The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.