Nellie Bowles and Katherine Brodsky: Jewish women dangerously recap the cancellation era in new books reviewed by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Dangerous Jewish women unite in the name of book promotion.

This piece will also appear in the Summer 2024 issue of the quarterly magazine published by The Canadian Jewish News.

Morning After the Revolution
Nellie Bowles
(Thesis/Penguin Random House)

No Apologies
Katherine Brodsky
(Pitchstone Books)

In a 2022 National Review essay, “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative,” my friend and Feminine Chaos podcast co-host Kat Rosenfield, an American novelist and cultural critic, recounts how, despite having always been a “free-speech and bleeding-heart” liberal, “conservatives so often mistake me for one of their own.” This happens, she writes, “not because I argue for right-wing policies or from a right-wing perspective, but because progressives are often extremely, publicly mad at me for refusing to parrot the latest catechism and for criticizing the progressive dogmas that either violate my principles or make no sense.” This puts her in good company, she goes on to write: “There’s a loose but growing coalition of lefties out there, artists and writers and academics and professionals, who’ve drawn sympathetic attention from conservatives after being publicly shamed out of the progressive clubhouse (that is, by the type of progressive who thinks there is a clubhouse, which is of course part of the problem).”

If North American Jews pull our weight and then some in the coalition Rosenfield describes, this is more than incidental. Right-wingers tend not to be the biggest champions of religious or ethnic minorities. Jewish values often seem a better fit with the left, making many Jews see the left as their natural political home. The American essayist Milton Himmelfarb famously said that we “earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” In the postwar period, some American Jews broke with their left-liberal origins in favour of a new brand of conservatism, one born of that particular political journey and therefore distinct from the thing usually called conservatism. This is roughly what neoconservative thinker (and Himmelfarb’s brother-in-law) Irving Kristol was getting at when he said that neoconservatives were liberals “mugged by reality.”

Today’s dissident-liberal Jewish intellectuals are more likely to call themselves (ourselves) heterodox than neoconservative, or to continue calling ourselves liberals, or to eschew labels entirely. Two new Jewish-authored books explore disillusionment with the left from the perspective of thinkers who have partially fallen out with it: Nellie Bowles’s Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches from the Wrong Side of History, and Katherine Brodsky’s more clunkily titled No Apologies: How to find and Free Your Voice in the Age of Outrage—Lessons for the Silenced Majority. Both books mix personal accounts of the authors’ own trajectories with broader reporting on what they (and, sometimes, I) see as progressive excesses.

In media circles, the L.A.-based Bowles is a big deal. A former New York Times reporter, she’s now at The Free Press, a media company founded by her wife, fellow former Times employee Bari Weiss, as a counterpoint to what they view as an overly reticent mainstream. Bowles, for her part, made her name with a 2018 Times profile of Jordan Peterson. Bowles and Weiss are both, in a non-derogatory sense, machers.

Katherine Brodsky, by contrast is no macher. She is a Canadian freelance writer, her book published by a small press. In her newsletter “about” section, she presents herself as a little bit dangerous:“It’s only fair to warn you: Here lives a certain femme fatale trapped in the mind of a writer with an overactive imagination.” It is possible I am not the target audience for this mode of self-presentation. But No Apologies isn’t much about Brodsky. She has a background as a celebrity interviewer and is skilled at getting other people, famous and otherwise, to share their own stories. Her book is not the eventthat Bowles’s is, but it covers similar ground. Both authors come across as driven not merely by some abstract defense of free expression but by journalistic curiosity. And you do, at a minimum, want an author who seems curious.


Bowles sticks narrowly—chronologically if not topically—to the 2020 racial reckoning following the police murder of George Floyd and its aftermath. One gets the impression that prior to 2020, Bowles wasn’t especially plugged into cancel-culture–type debates, and fair enough—most were not. Brodsky, for her part, goes back earlier, to the 2017 #MeToo movement and the proto-‘woke’ 2010s—also a solid choice, given that 2020 was itself merely the latest and most intense (due in part to lockdowns and corresponding online-ness) incarnation of something dating to roughly 2008, with a precursor in 1990s political correctness.

Despite enjoying Bowles’s writing, a part of me was resistant to Morning After the Revolution. It looked like the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of accounts from people who were present for summer 2020 drama at the New York Times opinion pages and are, for related reasons, no longer working there. Former editor James Bennet wrote an Economist essay, “When the New York Times lost its way,” the length of a short book. A lower-rung ex-staffer, Adam Rubenstein, penned “I Was a Heretic at The New York Times” for the Atlantic. There was also Weiss’s own resignation letter. I feel as though I was there, even though I know full well that I was in Canada looking after a toddler at the time.

Times-specific reminiscences thankfully make up little of Morning After. Much will nevertheless be familiar to those who’ve been following heterodox media (especially the Blocked and Reported podcast).

Other stories Bowles recounts are based on her own on-the-ground reporting from the fleeting, police-free Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, in what had been a liberal but not radical gay neighbourhood of Seattle, and similar locales elsewhere on the U.S. west coast. The anarchist-led micro-neighbourhoods heralded as the end of oppression did not, she finds, work out so well for, for example, racialized small-business owners within their boundaries. Similarly, according to Bowles, the movement to defund the police, supposedly about disbanding a racist institution, is sometimes a cause white people embrace on behalf of racialized people who see things otherwise. Indeed, Pew polling from 2021 showed that “among Democrats, Black (38%) and Hispanic (39%) adults are more likely than White adults (32%) to say spending on police in their area should be increased.” Bowles describes a meeting in Oakland, California where two groups clashed: “The black families started giving up. ‘The fuck you talking about,’ one man said to a petite white person with purple hair.’” A pattern emerges, one that’s worth paying attention to if you are, say, trying to make sense of why left-wing politicians can’t always take the votes of marginalized communities for granted.

Bowles has written elsewhere about her conversion to Judaism, but in Morning After, Jewishness comes up only intermittently. In the months since she finished writing the book, subtext has become text where Jews’ relationship to progressivism is concerned. Jews—no, not all Jews, just the vast majority of Jews worldwide, the ones with some sort of pro-Israel sentiment—now stand accused of being white supremacist colonizers. Some have responded by asking why North American Jews don’t get “safe spaces.” Others insist upon the importance of free speech, even speech very critical of Israel. Still others are the ones harshly criticizing Israel. My point is not that there is just one thing Jews today are saying about the relationship between Jews and post-Oct. 7 North American left-wing activism, but rather that a Jewish-authored book written about 2023-2024 would almost certainly have more of a Jewish angle.

The story Bowles is telling, however, centres on a moment where antisemitism were merely low on the list of social justice priorities. Bowles describes agonizing over her “wonderful synagogue” having a drag-queen-led Tot Shabbat, but then kind of coming around to it. She compares the drag queen posing for photos with joyous toddlers on her lap to “Santa,” which one could either take at face value as a comment on children having lighthearted fun playing with a costume-wearing adult, or as a dig at the synagogue-appropriateness, in her view, of the event in question. 

As the title, The Morning After the Revolution,spells out, Bowles is documenting a moment from which the world has moved on. (Was the reckoning a “revolution” or is this rhetorical flourish? Hard to say.) She argues that some left excesses have just been normalized, particularly in human resources, and now go unremarked. That said, she allows that not all of society has internalized 2020-style progressivism, and concludes with references to newly ascendent phenomena. One is the edgy “New Right,” with its embrace of “tradwives” and “imagined Bronze Age traditionalism,” rife with sexism and homophobia. The other, a left whose pro-Hamas bent is similarly unwelcoming to the sort of woman who would marry Bari Weiss and convert to Judaism. It’s enough to make a contrarian Jewish lady nostalgic for 2021-era ‘wokeness.’

Indeed, contrary to what I expected of the book, this far from a burn-it-down mockery of left-wing ideals. “I owe a lot of my life to political progressivism,” writes Bowles, “and I bristled at the alternative, which certainly wouldn’t want me.” Nor is this a personal story about having fallen out with a crowd. “I wasn’t canceled,” she writes. “Never have been.” But as Bowles began to question progressive orthodoxies, such as the wisdom of defunding the police, she faced pushback. Colleagues warned her that she was on “the wrong side of history” (hence the subtitle) and that Weiss, author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, was a “Nazi.” These days she is less worried what others will think.

“We entered an era of apologies,” writes Bowles. “This may seem strange to you now, but we all got used to it. To stay in good standing required relatively frequent apologizing.” That it did. Instagram featured little else. She adds, “It was also notable that these apologies did not help save jobs or stop criticism.”


On this—and much else—Bowles would get no argument from Katherine Brodsky, who cites The Free Press several times and moves in similar ideological (if not necessarily social) circles. No Apologies is simpler in format and ambitions than Morning After: an array of short profiles of cancelled individuals, people ostracized in their literary or knitting or academic communities for saying, or being accused of doing, the wrong thing. Unlike Bowles, Brodsky has a personal cancellation story as her point of departure. She was shunned after posting on a Facebook networking page that she thought it was fine for her group to promote a job opening at Fox News. She turned this experience into a 2021 Newsweek article, “The Rise of Righteous Online Bullies,” and now this book. Lemons into lemonade and all that.

Brodsky’s subjects are mainly established professionals. One exception is a University of British Columbia undergraduate, though even his case (ostracized by classmates for heterodox views) had garnered previous media coverage. The sources of cancellation range from outspokenness about unpopular beliefs (that it is helpful to speak directly to avowed racists as a way of changing their views, or that reporting is needed on people who transition gender and later regret having done so) to false accusations—arguably two separate phenomena, given that one is about free expression, and the other more broadly about justice. The chapters end with links to the subject’ professional pages and social media. Brodsky is not merely documenting a phenomenon, but an activist of sorts, helping un-cancel where she can.

Progressive hypersensitivity is an easy target for satire, and Bowles leans into this. Recalling brands’ 2020-era social justice awakening, she writes, “Seventh Generation, which makes my favorite toilet paper, posted: ‘We support defunding the police.’” Brodsky, however, goes with more of a serious register. Some of the people Brodsky profiles—Kat Rosenfield among them—have that sensibility. Brodsky herself comes across as righteous in a defense of free expression as she understands it, but not particularly amused by the stories she’s telling, nor by the absurdities of left-wing excesses. Mainly this is a difference in writing styles, but it’s also that, while both books are from 2024, Brodsky writes from within the reckoning, while Bowles looks at it with the detachment that comes with a (slight) remove.

Jewishness figures more prominently here than in Morning After, with several Jewish subjects highlighting this fact about themselves and its significance to their stories. The evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein cites his own Jewish background as his reason for speaking up when necessary. Meteorologist Cliff Mass tells Brodsky his outspoken climate change quasi-skepticism is rooted in “tikkun olam.” British musician Winston Marshall pushed back against detractors calling him a “fascist” by pointing out that he is “the progeny of Holocaust survivors.”

Brodsky’s own biography, that of “a Canadian citizen who has spent a lot of time in the United States,” originally from Ukraine, is as much a part of her own origin story as her Facebook mobbing. “Like many Jewish families, we fled with just about nothing in the midst of the ongoing Cold War, and even though I was just a child, the lessons of that period left a strong imprint on me, especially those related to the chilling effects of silencing and the damage that can be inflicted on groups and individuals in the name of some greater good.”

Brodsky does not present herself as partisan, noting, “the intolerant right is no less of an ‘enemy’ to free speech and unity than the intolerant left.” Like Bowles, she is a disillusioned liberal, but not prepared to join up with the right. “I have increasingly found myself as the ‘token liberal’ in conservative-dominated spaces and have thus been attacked by both the left and the right,” she explains. Her book was excerpted in the National Post.


During the 2020 reckoning, media entities began to spring up with titles announcing that heterodox, problematic ideas are forthcoming. There’s Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable podcast (on which I have been a guest) and Thomas Chatterton Williams’s Wrongthink. There are books, salons, publications. This hodgepodge of interesting (and less interesting) thinkers coalesced into its own industry. The whole enterprise can start to have a beating-a-dead-horse feel, even to those of us within it. Maybe it’s that there’s too much of a market for ‘silenced’ ideas for them to seem as taboo as they had. Or maybe it’s war-war making culture wars seem like small potatoes.

But the legacy lives on. My local Toronto coffee shop has added pro-Palestinian window displays alongside its pre-existing flyers in support of Black and trans lives. The independent bookstore a block over has done the bookstore equivalent of the same. In context, these are not indicators of an imminent revolution, let alone a completed one, but genteel accompaniments to a street that recently welcomed an upscale womenswear boutique.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on X. She is also on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.