David Rieff

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David Sontag Rieff
IDEAS - Dia 1 - David Rieff.jpg
Rieff in 2017
Born (1952-09-28) 28 September 1952 (age 70)
Education Lycée Français de New York
Alma mater Amherst College
Princeton University
Occupation(s)Non-fiction writer, policy analyst

David Rieff ( /ˈrf/ ; born September 28, 1952) is an American non-fiction writer and policy analyst. His books have focused on issues of immigration, international conflict, and humanitarianism.



Rieff is the only child of Susan Sontag, [1] who was 19 years old when he was born. His father, whom Sontag divorced, was Philip Rieff, author of Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. Rieff was educated at the Lycée Français de New York and attended Amherst College as a member of the class of 1974, where he studied under Benjamin DeMott. He completed college at Princeton University, graduating with an A.B. in history in 1978. [2]


Rieff was a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux from 1978 to 1989. [2] Rieff has at various times been a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, [2] a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, [3] a board member of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, [4] of the Central Eurasia Project of the Open Society Institute, [5] and of Independent Diplomat. [6]

Rieff has published articles in newspapers and journals including The New York Times , the Los Angeles Times , The Washington Post , The Wall Street Journal , Le Monde , El Pais , The New Republic , World Affairs, Harper's , The Atlantic Monthly , Foreign Affairs , The Nation . [7]

Rieff has written about the Bosnian War. Despite his initial support of the tenets of Liberal internationalism, he was critical of American policies and goals in the Iraq War. [8] [9] His 2016 article in The Guardian , "The cult of memory: when history does more harm than good"—which argues that some mass atrocities are better forgotten [10] —sparked a debate at the International Center for Transitional Justice. [11]


Peter Rose, reviewing Rieff's 2008 book Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir, compares it favourably to Simone de Beauvoir's 1964 A Very Easy Death; he considers the latter "perhaps the finest of filial memoirs." [1]

G. John Ikenberry, reviewing Rieff's 2005 book At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention for Foreign Affairs, called him "one of the most engaging observers of war and humanitarian emergencies in such troubled places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq". He notes Rieff's "caution and misgivings", and finds especially compelling the essay where Rieff laments the gap between the misery and violence "outside the gates of the Western world" and the obstacles that prevent the West from assembling the strength, whether military or moral, to resolve the problems. [12]

Personal life

Rieff has one child, a daughter (born 2006). [13]


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  1. 1 2 3 Rose, Peter (September 2011). "In the ring with Susan Sontag" (PDF). Australian Book Review . 334: 20–21. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 5, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "David Rieff". World Policy Institute. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  3. "David Rieff". New York Institute for the Humanities. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  4. "The Arms Project". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  5. "Soros Foundations Network 2002 Annual Report" (PDF). Open Society Foundations. 2002. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  6. "Independent Diplomat 10 Years" (PDF). Independent Diplomat. February 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  7. "David Rieff, Melbourne University Press". www.mup.com.au. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  8. Rieff, David, "Muscular Utopianism: I used to be a liberal interventionist. Now I'm a realist". Archived from the original on January 3, 2010. Retrieved June 12, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), The Wall Street Journal, Sunday, April 3, 2005.
  9. "Panelists debate the Iraq War (2002)". Youtube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.
  10. Rieff, David (March 2, 2016). "The cult of memory: when history does more harm than good". The Guardian. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  11. "Who Decides Whether to Remember or Forget?". International Center for Transitional Justice. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  12. Ikenberry, G. John (March 2005). "At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention. David Rieff. : Simon & Schuster, 2005, 288 pp. $24.00". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. 84 (2, March/April 2005). Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  13. McFadden, Robert D. (July 4, 2006). "Philip Rieff, Sociologist and Author on Freud, Dies at 83". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved January 31, 2023.