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Arion Berger is incorrect about some of the statements she makes about Tom Lehrer in her review of The Remains of Tom Lehrer (“The Domestic Insurgent,” 6/2). She says that Lehrer taught “mathematics at MIT throughout—although never, contrary to popular belief, [earning a] Ph.D.” In fact, Lehrer did finally earn a Ph.D., although not until he was nearly 40. Between his mid-20s and early 40s, Lehrer held several temporary teaching appointments, including one at MIT. He also worked as a mathematician at several government agencies and contractors. Since 1972, he has taught (mostly courses in mathematics for liberal-arts majors and musical theater) at the University of California at Santa Cruz during the winter, spending the rest of the year in Cambridge, Mass.
Berger is convinced that Lehrer’s songs were more likely to politically influence people than the earnestly liberal folk songs that he sometimes took aim against. Interestingly, Lehrer has said in interviews that he thought his own songs were “preaching to the converted” and the people being satirized in them were unlikely to understand that they were the targets of his songs.