After immigrating from Russia with his parents in 1907, Lerner earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1923. He studied law there but transferred to Washington University in St. Louis for an M.A. in 1925.
He earned a doctorate from the Brookings Institution in 1927 and began work as an editor:
Lerner's most influential book was America as a Civilization: Life and Thought in the United States Today (1957). Lerner was a staunch opponent of discrimination against African Americans, but supported the wartime internment of Japanese Americans and backed an American Civil Liberties Union resolution on the issue to "subordinate civil liberties to wartime considerations and political loyalties". During the 30s, Lerner was a strong advocate of the New Deal.
His column for the New York Post debuted in 1949. It earned him a place on the master list of Nixon political opponents. During most of his career he was considered a liberal. In his later years, however, he was seen as something of a conservative, due to expressing support for the Reagan administration.
He taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Harvard University, Williams College, United States International University, and Brandeis University. Lerner was also a close friend of film star Elizabeth Taylor during her marriage to Eddie Fisher. He is referenced in the lyrics to Phil Ochs' song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal": "You know, I've memorized Lerner and Golden."
His book The Unfinished Country is a collection of over 200 of his daily columns, which were written for the New York Post over the span of more than a decade. The Unfinished Country contains one of his better-known quotes: "The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt."
His 1990 book Wrestling with the Angel was about his long struggle with illness.
Romano, C. America the Philosophical (2012).
- Richard Severo, Max Lerner, Writer, 89, Is Dead; Humanist on Political Barricades, The New York Times, June 6, 1992
- A film clip "The Open Mind - An American Original . . . Revisited (1988)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases, pg. 129 (1983)
- Sanford Lakoff, "Preface", pp. ix-xxi, in Lakoff, Max Lerner : Pilgrim in the Promised Land. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN 0-226-46831-3
- Schine, Cathleen (October 18, 1981). Bad Luck and Violet Eyes. New York Times
- Severo, Richard (June 6, 1992). Max Lerner, Writer, 89, Is Dead; Humanist on Political Barricades. New York Times