March 25, 2019

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Long-Serving Times Book Critic, Dies at 84

Mr. Lehmann-Haupt was The Times’s chief obituary writer from 2000 to 2006, and then a freelance obituarist until his retirement in 2014. His subjects included Mr. Updike, Elizabeth Hardwick, William Styron and Peter Matthiessen.

The Matthiessen obituary, published on April 5, 2014, conveyed insights that spoke of firsthand knowledge of his subject, and it brought Mr. Lehmann-Haupt his first Page 1 byline.

“A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy,” Mr. Lehmann-Haupt wrote, “Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris.”

Mr. Lehmann-Haupt was himself a favorably reviewed author. His first novel, “A Crooked Man” (1995) focused on a United States senator who pushes legislation to decriminalize recreational drugs. His second, “The Mad Cook of Pymatuning” (2005), was a sinister take on a 1950s boys’ summer camp gone chillingly awry, with undertones of “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding’s 1954 novel about British boys stranded on an island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves.

His memoir, “Me and DiMaggio: A Baseball Fan Goes in Search of His Gods” (1986), recalled his childhood love of Yankee baseball games on the radio. “Mel Allen’s bronze gong of a voice would ring in the darkness around me with a description of a game being played hundreds of miles away,” he wrote. “And at the border of sleep and dreaming, I would discover again, as if it were a coin in tall grass, the hope that my team might win tomorrow.”

In a review in The Times, Donald Hall, the poet and critic, wrote: “At last count, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt had written four million two hundred and twenty four thousand four hundred and seven book reviews for this newspaper. He had not himself committed a book. Maybe he should quit while he is ahead, for ‘Me and DiMaggio’ is another excellent hymn to the joys of baseball.”

Christopher Charles Herbert Lehmann-Haupt was born in Edinburgh on June 14, 1934, the eldest of three sons of Hellmut and Letitia (Grierson) Lehmann-Haupt, who lived in New York City. Christopher was born on a visit to Scotland by his parents. He and his brothers, Carl and Alexander, were half siblings of John and Roxana Lehmann-Haupt, the children of their father’s marriage to Rosemarie Mueller in 1948.

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