Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker

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From a legendary journalist and star writer at The New Yorker -- one of the most revered institutions in publishing -- an insider's look at the magazine's tumultuous yet glorious years under the direction of the enigmatic William Shawn.

Renata Adler went to work at The New Yorker in 1963 and immediately became part of the circle close to editor William Shawn, a man so mysterious that no two biographies of him seem to be about the same person. Now Adler, herself an unrivaled ...

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Overview

From a legendary journalist and star writer at The New Yorker -- one of the most revered institutions in publishing -- an insider's look at the magazine's tumultuous yet glorious years under the direction of the enigmatic William Shawn.

Renata Adler went to work at The New Yorker in 1963 and immediately became part of the circle close to editor William Shawn, a man so mysterious that no two biographies of him seem to be about the same person. Now Adler, herself an unrivaled literary force, offers her brilliant take on the man -- and the myth that is The New Yorker -- disputing recent memoirs by Lillian Ross and Ved Mehta along the way.

With her lucid prose, meticulous eye for detail, and genuine love of The New Yorker, Adler re-creates thirty years in its history and depicts Shawn as a man of robust common sense, amazing industry, and editorial genius, who nurtured innumerable major talents (and egos) to produce a magazine that was -- and remains -- unique. Her ensemble cast -- all involved in legendary friendships, feuds, and love affairs -- includes Edmund Wilson, S. N. Behrman, Brendan Gill, Calvin Trillin, Dwight MacDonald, Donald Barthelme, Hannah Arendt, Pauline Kael, S. I. Newhouse, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and practically everyone of note in and around The New Yorker.

Above and beyond the fascinating literary anecdotes, however, Adler's is a striking narrative that follows the weakening of Shawn's hold over the magazine he loved, his reluctant attempts to find a successor, and the coup by which he was ultimately overthrown. It is a wonderful piece of reporting, full of real-life drama of Shakespearean dimensions, which Shawn himself surely would have loved.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A longtime New Yorker staffer follows up works by Lillian Ross and Ved Mehta, giving us her account of the magazine's history. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684808161
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 1/20/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 252
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.82 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Preface As I write this, The New Yorker is dead. It still comes out every week, or almost every week. There are the so-called double issues, which resemble, in format, the monthly fashion magazines, and which are "double" not in terms of content but only of duration; they remain on the stands an extra week. Otherwise, not a single defining element of the magazine remains. There have been five editors: Harold Ross, who founded the magazine in 1925; William Shawn, who ran it from 1951 to 1987; Robert Gottlieb, who came in in 1987 and left in 1992; Tina Brown, who took over in 1993 and left in 1998; and David Remnick, who came in in 1998. The magazine was already, at least arguably, declining under Mr. Shawn. This change goes beyond decline. It may be that a magazine has a natural life span and then sputters out. I don't think so. Or it may be that, from the remains of what was once a living enterprise, something else, under Mr. Remnick, or someone else, will grow. Apart perhaps from its logo, that would not be The New Yorker. The format, the look, the content, the humor, the level of seriousness; the ambition, at the top; the standards in the middle, the limits beneath which it would not sink; the relationship between editorial and advertising considerations; the balance between prose and pictures; the signature; certain notions of excellence; certain understandings with readers; the institutional memory -- these are not qualities that can be set aside and then taken up again.

The New Yorker used, from time to time, to publish the definitive piece on a subject. Readers knew it. Everyone knew it. The facts had been checked; the prose was adequate. The level of attack, the effort devoted to the piece, was likely to be high. Above all, there was a firm sequence: first, the creation of the work itself; then, the publication of the magazine, followed by the reaction of readers; finally, the enlistment of advertisers. An unmistakable sign of vitality in a magazine, as opposed, for example, to even the most sustained buzz, is that it is always a bit ahead of its readers. It cannot chase after them, or pander to what it believes to be their tastes. It cannot follow, or even try to anticipate, fashions and trends. It goes its way, and forms its audiences as it goes. This seems fairly obvious, until one considers that it runs absolutely counter to the mentality of subscription surveys, focus groups, and polls. The strength of The New Yorker under its two great editors, Harold Ross and William Shawn, was that it was governed entirely by the curiosity and energy of these editors and of the artists and writers whom they found, without worrying about what readers were going to like, least of all, about what advertisers thought.

Under both these editors, the magazine was financially a huge success. Before The New Yorker, there had been, on the one hand, the established literary magazines, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Mercury. These were supported mainly by reader subscriptions. On the other hand, there were the newer, mass-market general interest publications, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, which were supported by advertising and which kept the line between advertising and editorial content far from distinct. From time to time, there were also little magazines, like Dial, which, important as they might be, were not self-supporting, and did not last long. The New Yorker created a readership for a new sort of literary magazine, supported not by subscriptions but by advertisers, whom the editors ignored. It soon swallowed the little magazines as well, by buying up a lot of material that would, and probably should, have appeared in them.

Those little magazines had their patrons. The New Yorker, which began, from almost the moment Mr. Shawn left it, for the first time since its earliest years, to lose money, has, in its present owner, a patron now. The yearly losses, which grew over time, coincided, I think, with ever-increasing efforts to anticipate what readers like and to accommodate what advertisers want, in terms of style, layout, tone, even the notorious advertising copy disguised as editorial content, advertorials. There were, it is true, more important factors. Mr. Shawn, and before him, Ross, turned out to have had, in addition to remarkable civility and idiosyncratic but far-ranging interests, a kind of editorial genius, an intensity of focus, on every detail of every issue. As a result, over a period of more than fifty years, the magazine created and met a set of expectations. Its quality might go up or down. But there were certain kinds of pieces that could be published nowhere except in The New Yorker, and other kinds of pieces that might be published somewhere but never in The New Yorker. That is no longer true. There no longer exists what was once meant by a New Yorker piece. When the set of expectations is changed, the pieces themselves are affected. Not just in how they are written and edited but in how they are understood. An audience, for anything in the arts, does not pre-exist. It is part of what is created. When the audience for what had been The New Yorker dispersed, while the pollsters were trying to determine the preferences of some imaginary, pre-existing and statistically desirable new readership, there was really no New Yorker left. The present owner, S. I. Newhouse, continues t o subsidize the magazine, almost as if it were a sort of benefaction -- as a Renaissance patron might, or for that matter, as Mr. Newhouse himself supports his art collection. There is at least this difference. Neither the art the Medicis subsidized, nor the paintings on Mr. Newhouse's walls, were expected to make money.

It has been my good fortune to have worked for The New Yorker nearly all my adult life. Other books have come out about the magazine in that period. They do not seem right to me. I began this book, years ago, at what seemed to me the beginning of the end. It now seems to me the end, full stop. Something, under The New Yorker's logo or another, will surely follow. But it takes decades to create an audience and so to engage its trust that a story by Eudora Welty, say, based on a recent assassination in Mississippi; or a book review by Dwight Macdonald of a study of poverty in America; or a tirade by James Baldwin about racial relations; or a series on urban development by Rachel Carson, will all actually acquire not just influence but a crucial element of their meaning from having appeared in a single publication. Many publications, no doubt, will continue to publish valuable pieces. But it is hard to see how the expectations will ever be met under a single logo again.

Copyright © 1999 by Renata Adler

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Preface

As I write this, The New Yorker is dead. It still comes out every week, or almost every week. There are the so-called double issues, which resemble, in format, the monthly fashion magazines, and which are "double" not in terms of content but only of duration; they remain on the stands an extra week. Otherwise, not a single defining element of the magazine remains. There have been five editors: Harold Ross, who founded the magazine in 1925; William Shawn, who ran it from 1951 to 1987; Robert Gottlieb, who came in in 1987 and left in 1992; Tina Brown, who took over in 1993 and left in 1998; and David Remnick, who came in in 1998. The magazine was already, at least arguably, declining under Mr. Shawn. This change goes beyond decline. It may be that a magazine has a natural life span and then sputters out. I don't think so. Or it may be that, from the remains of what was once a living enterprise, something else, under Mr. Remnick, or someone else, will grow. Apart perhaps from its logo, that would not be The New Yorker. The format, the look, the content, the humor, the level of seriousness; the ambition, at the top; the standards in the middle, the limits beneath which it would not sink; the relationship between editorial and advertising considerations; the balance between prose and pictures; the signature; certain notions of excellence; certain understandings with readers; the institutional memory -- these are not qualities that can be set aside and then taken up again.

The New Yorker used, from time to time, to publish the definitive piece on a subject. Readers knew it. Everyone knew it. The facts had been checked; the prose was adequate. The level of attack, the effort devoted to the piece, was likely to be high. Above all, there was a firm sequence: first, the creation of the work itself; then, the publication of the magazine, followed by the reaction of readers; finally, the enlistment of advertisers. An unmistakable sign of vitality in a magazine, as opposed, for example, to even the most sustained buzz, is that it is always a bit ahead of its readers. It cannot chase after them, or pander to what it believes to be their tastes. It cannot follow, or even try to anticipate, fashions and trends. It goes its way, and forms its audiences as it goes. This seems fairly obvious, until one considers that it runs absolutely counter to the mentality of subscription surveys, focus groups, and polls. The strength of The New Yorker under its two great editors, Harold Ross and William Shawn, was that it was governed entirely by the curiosity and energy of these editors and of the artists and writers whom they found, without worrying about what readers were going to like, least of all, about what advertisers thought.

Under both these editors, the magazine was financially a huge success. Before The New Yorker, there had been, on the one hand, the established literary magazines, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Mercury. These were supported mainly by reader subscriptions. On the other hand, there were the newer, mass-market general interest publications, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, which were supported by advertising and which kept the line between advertising and editorial content far from distinct. From time to time, there were also little magazines, like Dial, which, important as they might be, were not self-supporting, and did not last long. The New Yorker created a readership for a new sort of literary magazine, supported not by subscriptions but by advertisers, whom the editors ignored. It soon swallowed the little magazines as well, by buying up a lot of material that would, and probably should, have appeared in them.

Those little magazines had their patrons. The New Yorker, which began, from almost the moment Mr. Shawn left it, for the first time since its earliest years, to lose money, has, in its present owner, a patron now. The yearly losses, which grew over time, coincided, I think, with ever-increasing efforts to anticipate what readers like and to accommodate what advertisers want, in terms of style, layout, tone, even the notorious advertising copy disguised as editorial content, advertorials. There were, it is true, more important factors. Mr. Shawn, and before him, Ross, turned out to have had, in addition to remarkable civility and idiosyncratic but far-ranging interests, a kind of editorial genius, an intensity of focus, on every detail of every issue. As a result, over a period of more than fifty years, the magazine created and met a set of expectations. Its quality might go up or down. But there were certain kinds of pieces that could be published nowhere except in The New Yorker, and other kinds of pieces that might be published somewhere but never in The New Yorker. That is no longer true. There no longer exists what was once meant by a New Yorker piece. When the set of expectations is changed, the pieces themselves are affected. Not just in how they are written and edited but in how they are understood. An audience, for anything in the arts, does not pre-exist. It is part of what is created. When the audience for what had been The New Yorker dispersed, while the pollsters were trying to determine the preferences of some imaginary, pre-existing and statistically desirable new readership, there was really no New Yorker left. S. I. Newhouse, continues to subsidize the magazine, almost as if it were a sort of benefaction -- as a Renaissance patron might, or for that matter, as Mr. Newhouse himself supports his art collection. There is at least this difference. Neither the art the Medicis subsidized, nor the paintings on Mr. Newhouse's walls, were expected to make money.

It has been my good fortune to have worked for The New Yorker nearly all my adult life. Other books have come out about the magazine in that period. They do not seem right to me. I began this book, years ago, at what seemed to me the beginning of the end. It now seems to me the end, full stop. Something, under The New Yorker's logo or another, will surely follow. But it takes decades to create an audience and so to engage its trust that a story by Eudora Welty, say, based on a recent assassination in Mississippi; or a book review by Dwight Macdonald of a study of poverty in America; or a tirade by James Baldwin about racial relations; or a series on urban development by Rachel Carson, will all actually acquire not just influence but a crucial element of their meaning from having appeared in a single publication. Many publications, no doubt, will continue to publish valuable pieces. But it is hard to see how the expectations will ever be met under a single logo again.



Copyright 1999 by Renata Adler

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2002

    Fascinating, absorbing, brilliant.

    This is an outstanding book. I couldn't put it down and literally read it in one night. Renata Adler is one of the best writers around and her insights are smart, sharp, witty, and sometimes biting. 'Gone' is a terrific, highly readable history of 'The New Yorker,' with all its quirks and oddities put on display. Adler makes a convincing case that the 'old' 'New Yorker,' despite its faults, was decimated, dumbed-down, even destroyed by the dimwitted flash-in-the-pan Tina Brown, who, it should be noted, has never run a profitable magazine since arriving in the U.S. If you're looking for great gossip about the New York literary scene, you've got to pick up this book. I highly recommend 'Gone.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2001

    IT SHOULD BE GONE!

    In all of my years, I always, with some very few exceptions, finish a book I've purchased no matter how badly written, poorly edited,or just plain boring. Not in this case. I tried everything. I tried restarting several times, I tried skimming,...nothing worked. I gave up and threw it away!. I love the NEW YORKER; and I thought this would be a great book about it's inner workings. I was wrong. This was an inpenetrable,unedited, run on screed; by someone who assumed we knew all of the inside gossip and intrigue that she so confusingly wrote about. I run on. I love books...I hated this book...you will too

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