In Memoriam: Dr. Irwin Unger (1927 – 2021)

Irwin Unger, prominent historian, passed away in May 2021, shortly after his 94th birthday and the 51st anniversary of his marriage with Debi Unger, who was also his co-author. Brooklyn born and bred, Unger earned his B.A. from the City College of New York, M.A. from University of Washington in Seattle, and Ph.D. From Columbia University, mentored by David Herbert Donald. He taught at California State University at Long Beach, the University of California at Davis, and, for forty years, at New York University. His doctoral students remember not only the high standards he set for them, but also his quietly caring and supportive nature.

Unger published widely. His first book, The Greenback Era, was so meticulously researched, solidly reasoned, and well written that it won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize in history. His scholarly interests ranged from the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Sixties and the modern era. It is an impressive legacy that includes; George Marshall, (with Debi Unger and Stanley Hirshson, 2014), The Guggenheims: A Family History, (with Debi Unger, 2005), LBJ : A Life, (with Debi Unger, 1999), The Times Were a Changin': The Sixties Reader (with Debi Unger, 1998), The Best of Intentions: The Great Society Programs of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon (1996), Turning Point, 1968, (with Debi Unger, 1988), The Vulnerable Years: The United States, 1896-1917 (1977), The Movement: The American New Left 1959-1973 (1973), The Greenback Era: A Political and Social History of American Finance (1964)

As a dedicated teacher, Unger published the following volumes designed to make U.S. history accessible to students that included; Recent America: The United States Since 1945 (2001), American Issues: A Primary Source Reader in United States History, (with Robert Tomes, 2001), Instant American History through the Civil War and Reconstruction (1994), These United States: The Questions of Our Past (1978), Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction with Paul Goodman (1970)

The non-academic side of Unger’s life was equally rich. He had three sons with his first wife, Bernate Spaet: Brooke (Deborah), Miles (Jody) and Paul, two stepchildren: Anthony Marcus (Jo) and Elizabeth Marcus (Kurt), as well as eight grandchildren. He amused family with stories about monitoring food portions for the U.S. Army while serving in the Quartermaster Corps between obtaining his M.A. and Ph.D. As a Renaissance man, Unger read widely in science-- particularly astronomy, physics, and chemistry, which was his original college major. A trumpet player at Brooklyn’s Madison High School, he enjoyed jazz and classical music. In addition, he and Debi regularly attended concerts, the ballet, theater, and movies, Unger wisely stopped smoking cigars in the 1990s, but never relinquished his love for the New Jersey shore and walking on the boardwalk with Debi.

Posted: June 7, 2021
Tagged: In Memoriam