Sydney J. Harris

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This article is about the journalist. For other people named Sidney or Sydney Harris, see Sidney Harris (disambiguation).

Sydney J. Harris (September 14, 1917 – December 8, 1986) was an American journalist for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times. He wrote 11 books and his weekday column, “Strictly Personal,” was syndicated in approximately 200 newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.[1]


Sydney Justin Harris was born in London, but his family moved to the United States when he was five years old. Harris grew up in Chicago, where he spent the rest of his life. He attended high school with Saul Bellow, who was his lifelong friend. In 1934, at age 17, Harris began his newspaper career with the Chicago Herald and Examiner and studied Philosophy at the University of Chicago. After university, he became drama critic (1941) and a columnist for the Chicago Daily News (1944). He held those positions until 1978.[2]

Harris's politics were considered liberal and his work landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents. He spoke in favour of abortion, women's rights and civil rights.[3] His last column was an essay against capital punishment.[4]

Some critics found his columns light-weight and aphorismic. For example, writing for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard in 2012, Andrew Ferguson said that Harris had "tortured Sun-Times readers with a column composed of nothing but aphorisms, sententious squibs, little dollops of uplift that were so banal or dubious they perversely compelled a reader’s attention."[5] A typical aphorism is this excerpt from his Pieces of Eight (1982): "Superior people are only those who let it be discovered by others; the need to make it evident forfeits the very virtue they aspire to." On the other hand, Sanford Lakoff described Harris as a writer and critic with fastidious standards.[6]

He was also a drama critic, teacher, and lecturer, and he received numerous honorary doctorates during his career, including from Villa Maria College, Divine World College of San Jose and Lenoir Rhyne College. In 1980–1982 he was the visiting scholar at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina. For many years he was a member of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. He was recognized with awards from organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In later years, he divided his time between Chicago and Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Harris was married twice, and fathered five children. He died at age 69 of complications following heart bypass surgery.[7]


Collected Columns[edit]

  • Strictly Personal (1953)
  • Majority of One (1957)
  • Last Things First (1961)
  • On the Contrary (1964)
  • Leaving the Surface (1968)
  • For the Time Being (1972)
  • The Best of Sydney J. Harris (1975)
  • Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Clearing the Ground (1986)
  • How to Keep Air Clean

Other Books[edit]

  • The Authentic Person: Dealing with Dilemma (1972)
  • Winners and Losers (1973)
  • Would You Believe? (1979)


  1. ^ Chicago Sun-Times, December 8, 1986 (
  2. ^ AP Archives, December 8, 1986 (
  3. ^ Midwest MS Harris Inventory of the Sydney Justin Harris Papers, 1933-1987. (
  4. ^ AP Archives, December 8, 1986 (
  5. ^ "Whose Kind of Town," Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard, Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13
  6. ^ Max Lerner: Pilgrim in the Promised Land, by Sanford Lakoff, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 201.
  7. ^ New York Times (

External links[edit]