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The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Centuryby Alan Brinkley
"There are many ways of committing professional suicide, and in the 1970s mine consisted of attempting to work as a writer for an American newsmagazine. It probably didn't help that I was British and somewhat over-sure of my abilities. But failure comes to those who seek it earnestly. I remember looking at the gray, windowless cubicle wall some floors above Madison Avenue, telling myself that here, amid the excess adjectival growths and ineptly pruned corporate prose I generated to no avail each week, I was about to be taught a lesson." Nicholas Fraser, Harper's Magazine (read the entire Harper's review)
Synopses & Reviews
Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century.
As the founder of Time, Fortune, and Life magazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world. Born the son of missionaries, Henry Luce spent his childhood in rural China, yet he glimpsed a milieu of power altogether different at Hotchkiss and later at Yale. While working at a Baltimore newspaper, he and Brit Hadden conceived the idea of Time: a “news-magazine” that would condense the weeks events in a format accessible to increasingly busy members of the middle class. They launched it in 1923, and young Luce quickly became a publishing titan. In 1936, after Times unexpected success—and Haddens early death—Luce published the first issue of Life, to which millions soon subscribed.
Brinkley shows how Luce reinvented the magazine industry in just a decade. The appeal of Life seemingly cut across the lines of race, class, and gender. Luce himself wielded influence hitherto unknown among journalists. By the early 1940s, he had come to see his magazines as vehicles to advocate for Americas involvement in the escalating international crisis, in the process popularizing the phrase “World War II.” In spite of Luces great success, happiness eluded him. His second marriage—to the glamorous playwright, politician, and diplomat Clare Boothe—was a shambles. Luce spent his later years in isolation, consumed at times with conspiracy theories and peculiar vendettas.
The Publisher tells a great American story of spectacular achievement—yet it never loses sight of the public and private costs at which that achievement came.
"The magazines Henry Luce and Time Inc. launched have become institutions, but as Brinkley's magisterial biography reminds us, Luce was only 24 years old when he published the first issue of Time at the tail end of a recession in 1923 — not much different from today's digital media entrepreneurs. (Brinkley also details the role of Brit Hadden, Luce's friendly rival at Hotchkiss and Yale and eventual business partner, in making the magazine a success.) Those around Luce frequently described him as arrogant, and his intense sense of purpose increasingly played out in the pages of his magazines, like his insistence (despite numerous warnings from observers on the front lines) on supporting Chiang Kai-shek as a counter to the rise of communism in China. Brinkley appears to have read every issue from the early decades of Time, Fortune, and Life cover to cover, grounding his criticisms of Luce's social and political vision in rigorous detail. He's equally solid on Luce's personal life, including his early years as the son of Christian missionaries in China and his whirlwind courtship of (and rocky marriage to) Clare Boothe Luce. A top-notch biography, and a valuable addition to the history of American media." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“How fortunate we are . . . that Luce is now the subject of a monumental, magisterial biography, the finest ever written about an American journalist.” Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Brinkley’s wonderfully insightful and judicious biography is more than the story of a life; it’s a political history of modernity.” Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
“Brinkley has a gift for restoring missing dimensions to figures who have been flattened into caricature . . . The book does full justice to Luce’s outsider insecurity, his blind affinity for men of power and his defects as a family man. But it is a humanizing portrayal, and it credits the role his magazines, Time and Life especially, played in a country growing uneasily into the dominant geopolitical force in the world.” Bill Keller, The New York Times
“Brinkley has told Luce’s saga with scrupulous fairness, compelling detail and more than a tinge of affection for his vast ambitions and vexing frailties . . . with the rigor, honesty and generosity that Luce’s own magazine’s too often sacrificed to the proprietor’s enormous ego and will to power.” Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal
“A real gift . . .Brinkley has given us the enviable model of a man of his moment.” James R. Gaines, Columbia Magazine
“A thoroughly researched, nuanced appreciation of a complex, talented and troubled man.” Kirkus (Starred review)
“In this superb biography Alan Brinkley, a Columbia University historian, has told the curiously depressing story of a brilliant man who got everything wrong, including so many of the things that mattered most to him. Mr Brinkley has an eye for both the telling detail and the broad sweep of Luce’s role as the man who saw the need for a national news magazine and foresaw the American century.” The Economist
Acclaimed historian Brinkley presents a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, who, as the founder of "Time, Fortune," and "Life" magazines, is arguably the most important publisher of the 20th century.
About the Author
Alan Brinkley is Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University. His previous books include Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, which won the National Book Award for History. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
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