four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
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0

A-The Publisher.epsPrimarily known as an historian of the New Deal, Alan Brinkley, a professor at Columbia University, is also the author of the popular American history textbook The Unfinished Nation.

The Topic: While contemporary America has had its share of media moguls, it's hard to find one that cuts quite the figure of Henry Luce. The founder of Time, Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated, Luce perfectly catered to the tastes and lifestyles of the emerging suburban middle class. Yet he was always something of an outsider, having been born to American missionaries in China. When he moved to the United States to further his education, his elite schoolmates snubbed him as a "scholarship boy," but he eventually secured his place in America's upper crust through his marriage to the glamorous writer, politician, and socialite Clare Boothe. By explaining these episodes from Luce's life, as well as his political leanings, Brinkley provides insight into the origins of Time Inc.'s founder and other mainstays of American journalism.
Knopf. 531 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780679414445

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] monumental, magisterial biography, the finest ever written about an American journalist, a book that secures Luce's large if problematic place in history. ... He gets the big picture exactly right and does so with even-handedness, a remarkable achievement considering the controversy that swirled around Luce almost from the moment he stepped onto the public stage in February 1923." Jonathan Yardley

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Alan Brinkley's impressive accomplishment was his judicious distilling of all this information into an almost seamless narrative about an intensely private individual who somehow spoke to millions of Americans on a weekly basis with authority, style, dramatic photos and hard facts, as well as facts distorted by Luce's old-fashioned traditional opinions. ... The Publisher reads swiftly and entertainingly while building a rounded portrait of one of American journalism's most important and now perhaps, forgotten figures." Bob Hoover

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Alan Brinkley ... marshals all the material for a devastating portrait of Luce as a bombastic, autocratic press lord ... who made his magazines mouthpieces for his own ideology and obsessions. Instead, Mr. 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." Edward Kosner

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Luce's own remarkable ascent is dramatically recounted in Alan Brinkley's mammoth biography. ... Journalism junkies will especially enjoy Brinkley's riveting chapters on the tortuous creative process of giving birth to new publications." Clint O'Connor

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
" Mr. Brinkley makes a cogent case for why Luce's story and the sometimes controversial history of his frankly partisan publishing empire deserve to be seen in a new light. ... Luce was so friendless and ambiguous that Mr. Brinkley is often at arm's length from his subject." Janet Maslin

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Brinkley finds much fault with Luce: his injection of political opinions into his news magazines, his arrogance and standoffishness, his editorial meddling, his casual attitude toward marital fidelity. But the author also finds much to admire in Luce: his vision in inventing a new form of journalism, his favorable coverage of civil rights and labor unions, his generosity and his probing intelligence, always pushing into new fields." Harry Levins

Critical Summary

Invariably drawing comparisons with the political slant of his subject's magazines, reviewers praised Alan Brinkley's evenhandedness in The Publisher. They portrayed the book as an antidote not only to earlier, more negative biographies but to a generation that cannot comprehend the influence once held by Time brethren, especially in this age of digital information. Above all, critics praised Brinkley's feel for the particular prose style of Luce and his magazines, which gave birth to many an expression now considered cliché. A few reviewers commented that while the book is extraordinarily well researched, Brinkley still holds his subject at arm's length. Then again, for a man of such public titanic proportions, he remained a lonely, private man.