Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Overview

A national bestseller, Hothouse is a “wonderful” (New York Review of Books), “valuable” (The New Yorker), cultural history, “a ripping read about the eminent publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux” (The Boston Globe).

Farrar, Straus & Giroux is arguably the most influential publishing house of the modern era. Home to an unrivaled twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and generation-defining authors like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen, it’s a ...

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Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Overview

A national bestseller, Hothouse is a “wonderful” (New York Review of Books), “valuable” (The New Yorker), cultural history, “a ripping read about the eminent publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux” (The Boston Globe).

Farrar, Straus & Giroux is arguably the most influential publishing house of the modern era. Home to an unrivaled twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and generation-defining authors like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen, it’s a cultural institution whose importance approaches that of The New York Times. But FSG is no ivory tower—and its untold story is as engrossing as many of the great novels it has published.

Boris Kachka reveals the era and the city that built FSG through the stories of two men: founder-owner Roger Straus, the black sheep of his German-Jewish family, and the reticent, closeted editor Robert Giroux, who rose from working-class New Jersey to discover the novelists and poets who helped define American culture. Giroux became one of T.S. Eliot’s best friends and played caretaker to manic-depressive geniuses like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Jack Kerouac. Straus, the showman, made Susan Sontag a star, kept Edmund Wilson out of prison, and turned Isaac Bashevis Singer into a Nobelist.

After giving us a fresh perspective on the postwar authors we thought we knew, Kachka exposes how elite publishing works today. He gets inside the editorial meetings where writers’ fates are decided; he captures the adrenaline rush of bidding wars for top talent; and he lifts the lid on the high-stakes pursuit of that rarest commodity, public attention—including a fly-on-the-wall account of the confrontation between Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen.

Hothouse is the product of five years of research and nearly 200 interviews by a veteran New York magazine writer. It shares “a thrilling look at the heyday of the publishing industry” (Entertainment Weekly) and illuminates the vital intellectual center of the American Century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The New York book world, poised between scruffy glamour and crass commercialism, emerges in this lively chronicle of an iconic institution. New York magazine contributing editor Kachka chronicles the midsized independent publishing house whose mission of bringing high culture to the mass market set the tone for postwar American letters. The saga’s charismatic ringmaster is Roger Straus, FSG’s ebullient, profane part owner and publisher. His tangled relationships with a string of brilliant writers, including Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, and Philip Roth, are equal parts paternalistic and exploitative; authors loved FSG’s support and sympathy—Straus and his editors championed difficult writers and nurtured blocked, broke, and addicted ones—but the substandard advances, not so much. Threading through Kachka’s juicy narrative is an epochal shift in the industry: from the old FSG, with its shabby offices, lewd banter, nonstop adulteries, dysfunctional quasi-familial relations between authors and the publisher, and febrile literary passions, to the new era of bland media conglomerates, for which books are but transitory business partnerships between executives, authors, and celebrity agents. Entertaining, accessible, smart, and thought-provoking, this is a book very much in tune with the lost literary milieu it recreates. Photos. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Aug. 6)
Toni Morrison
Hothouse has both intelligence and wit in its revelations of publishing, publishers, and the capture of authors. The story of FSG is a dazzling wide-lens view of decades of literary America. To call Boris Kachka’s prose ‘brilliant’ is not a cliché; it has meaning.”
Junot Díaz
“This is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime book. With Hothouse Kachka has produced his very own Mad Men for the literary world—an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of FSG that’s really an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of a literary culture.”
From the Publisher
“Juicy . . . The New York book world, poised between scruffy glamour and crass commercialism, emerges in this lively chronicle of an iconic institution . . . Entertaining, accessible, smart, and thought-provoking, this is a book very much in tune with the lost literary milieu it re-creates.”

“Lively history . . . A smart, savvy portrait of arguably the country’s most important publisher . . . complete with sex, sour editors, and the occasional stumble into financial success. . . . A smart and informative portrait of the mechanisms of modern publishing.”

Hothouse has both intelligence and wit in its revelations of publishing, publishers, and the capture of authors. The story of FSG is a dazzling wide-lens view of decades of literary America. To call Boris Kachka’s prose ‘brilliant’ is not a cliché; it has meaning.”

“This is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime book. With Hothouse Kachka has produced his very own Mad Men for the literary world—an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of FSG that’s really an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of a literary culture.”

“Astounding: an intelligent, knowing, beautifully written, spectacularly well-reported (read: gratifyingly gossipy) chronicle of the ultimate old-school book publisher. If you want a sense of how big-time, high-end New York publishing used to work and works today, I can't imagine a finer, more authoritative guide.”

“Boris Kachka would have you believe that Hothouse is the inside story of book publishing as told through the prism of that industry’s original odd couple. Do not believe him. Do not be fooled by the wonderful stories of famous authors, editors, and publishers. Here instead is a sneakily informative view of how art gets made in America, a fresh look at the intersection of commerce and culture.”

“As a literary biographer, I’m amazed this book hasn’t been written yet in some form, and we can only be grateful that the matter rested until such a stylish, insightful author as Kachka came along to write it. It reminds me of another of my favorite books, Brendan Gill’s Here at The New Yorker—full of sad/funny anecdotes about living, breathing human beings, namely (in both cases) nothing less than the major figures in twentieth century American literature. At the center of both books, too, are two fascinating, polar-opposite protagonists: New Yorker editors Harold Ross and William Shawn in Gill’s book, and the flamboyant, Ascot-wearing Roger Straus and his fastidious editor-in-chief, Robert Giroux, in Kachka’s. What all four of these deeply strange men had in common was a love of good writing and a genius for eliciting same from the fortunate authors in their charge. Hothouse is a must-read for anyone curious about the secret history of American publishing in the postwar era.”

Hothouse is a wonderful book—a sharp look at the backstory of a famous publishing house and the flamboyant man who got as much attention as the writers he usually got cheap. Bravo!”

Larry McMurtry
Hothouse is a wonderful book—a sharp look at the backstory of a famous publishing house and the flamboyant man who got as much attention as the writers he usually got cheap. Bravo!”
Kurt Andersen
“Astounding: an intelligent, knowing, beautifully written, spectacularly well-reported (read: gratifyingly gossipy) chronicle of the ultimate old-school book publisher. If you want a sense of how big-time, high-end New York publishing used to work and works today, I can't imagine a finer, more authoritative guide.”
Blake Bailey
“As a literary biographer, I’m amazed this book hasn’t been written yet in some form, and we can only be grateful that the matter rested until such a stylish, insightful author as Kachka came along to write it. It reminds me of another of my favorite books, Brendan Gill’s Here at The New Yorker—full of sad/funny anecdotes about living, breathing human beings, namely (in both cases) nothing less than the major figures in twentieth century American literature. At the center of both books, too, are two fascinating, polar-opposite protagonists: New Yorker editors Harold Ross and William Shawn in Gill’s book, and the flamboyant, Ascot-wearing Roger Straus and his fastidious editor-in-chief, Robert Giroux, in Kachka’s. What all four of these deeply strange men had in common was a love of good writing and a genius for eliciting same from the fortunate authors in their charge. Hothouse is a must-read for anyone curious about the secret history of American publishing in the postwar era.”
Sloane Crosley
“Boris Kachka would have you believe that Hothouse is the inside story of book publishing as told through the prism of that industry’s original odd couple. Do not believe him. Do not be fooled by the wonderful stories of famous authors, editors, and publishers. Here instead is a sneakily informative view of how art gets made in America, a fresh look at the intersection of commerce and culture.”
Shelf Awareness - Harvey Freedenberg
“Essential reading . . . A lively and entertaining story any book lover will devour with relish.”
New York Magazine
"The golden age of book publishing in all its gossipy glory."
Junot Díaz
“This is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime book. With Hothouse Kachka has produced his very own Mad Men for the literary world—an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of FSG that’s really an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of a literary culture.”
Junot Daz
This is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime book. With Hothouse Kachka has produced his very own Mad Men for the literary worldan exhilarating, beautifully written biography of FSG thats really an exhilarating, beautifully written biography of a literary culture.
Summer 2013 Hot List Harpers Bazaar
A juicy account of the postwar New York book world . . . Not your average beach read, Hothouse, out August 6, is one nonethelessa Gossip Girl for those fascinated with the literary elite.
Booklist
“Scintillating history . . . Writing with vigor, skill, and expertise and drawing on dozens of in-depth interviews, Kachka shares risqué gossip and striking insider revelations and vividly profiles the house’s world-shaping writers. . . . Kachka’s engrossing portrait of an exceptional publishing house sheds new light on the volatile mixture of commerce, art, and passion that makes the world of books go round.”
Kirkus Reviews
A thorough study of the gold standard in American literary publishing, complete with sex, sour editors and the occasional stumble into financial success. Farrar, Straus and Giroux has corralled some of the most prominent names in literature since it was founded in 1945, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Susan Sontag to Philip Roth to Jeffrey Eugenides. As New York contributing editor Kachka makes clear in this generally lively history, little of its success came easy: If weak-selling books weren't the problem, personality clashes within the office were. The core of the story is Roger Straus, who championed some of the publisher's biggest names throughout the years, including Tom Wolfe, whose fiction and nonfiction defined a generation of writing, though his delayed manuscripts put the company under financial strain. (His 1979 classic on the space program, The Right Stuff, appeared in FSG's catalog for years.) Some intramural tussles among editors read like insider baseball, but Kachka's recollections of FSG's struggle with independence (it sold to the German firm Holtzbrinck in 1994) and the modern era of big-money agents give a smart and informative portrait of the mechanisms of modern publishing. Roger Straus (who died in 2004) was a complicated man fit for this tale: He bedded plenty of women, was notoriously stingy, and engaged in an extended push and pull with his son, Roger Straus III, who'd spend time in and out of the company. Kachka extends the story into the present day, where, under the leadership of Jonathan Galassi, novelists like Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen preserve the publisher's high-art sensibility while struggling to make ends meet. But Kachka wants to remind us that it's always been thus: FSG was forever saved from failure by the big hit that cannily merged literary and commercial. A smart, savvy portrait of arguably the country's most important publisher.
Bookforum - Matt Weiland
“A roaring chronicle . . . For anyone with a sweet tooth for the book world or a thought and a care for American culture after the Second World War, the book is a brightly lit, well-stocked candy store. . . . It’s also a superb business story, revealing how an enterprise became an institution. . . . [An] essential book.”
New York magazine Jonathan Galassi
“A rough-and-tumble, heroic tale . . . Kachka takes us back to the black-and-white era when good old-fashioned hard­covers stood unassailably at the very heart of the culture. . . . I loved reading the spiky, spicy evocation of the company’s good old days.”
Entertainment Weekly
Hothouse is a thrilling look at the heyday of the publishing industry . . . [and] the man who, as Kachka points out, shaped the postwar intellectual tone in this country through the sheer dint of his brazenness and charm.”
Los Angeles Times
“Irresistible . . . Juicy history . . . A delectable story about the intersection of art, commerce, passion and personalities. . . . Hothouse feels like a party where you’re surprised to discover that you know—and admire—most of the other guests.”
USA Today
Hothouse simmers with gossipy tales of publishing . . . and [is] blessed with real-life characters who could star in any sexy novel. . . . It’s not a book just for intellectuals.”
The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
“Vivid . . . Witty . . . Immensely enjoyable . . . Kachka sets forth a strikingly unexpurgated history of FSG, impressively researched, rich in anecdotes and journalistically balanced.”
The New Yorker - Robert Gottlieb
“Valuable . . . [A] vigorous and often diverting trot through the history of an important cultural institution . . . No one has previously anatomized a publishing house in such depth . . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, moreover, is well worth anatomizing. It’s had a larger-than-life central character, an amusing cast of secondary characters, and a history replete with drama. Most important, it has maintained an amazingly consistent level of quality.”
The Wall Street Journal - Paul Elie
“Colorful history . . . Hothouse isn’t a management book; it’s a narrative of large personalities at play. Yet out of it comes a clear account of how to thrive in a tough commercial environment. . . . Kachka tells the story of the house’s ‘class-mass’ success in delicious detail.”
The Boston Globe - Laura Collins-Hughes
“What is it about literary types? Oh, the sex! Oh, the emotional drama! And, oh, what tremendous fun it all is to read about when we’re in the hands of a writer who knows how to spin a savory tale. So it is with Boris Kachka’s delectably gossipy Hothouse, a deeply researched, jam-packed, surprisingly hard-to-put-down history of the eminent publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux that escapes lit-nerd ghettoization by the sheer force of its storytelling. . . . Hothouse is a ripping read.”
Interview
“The truth about industry books is that they rarely interest those who live and breathe outside of the industry in question. In other words, people on the street rarely clamor for tours of the office buildings above them. The rare ability not only to lead the reader in, but induce him to want to stay and peer into the filing cabinets is what makes Boris Kachka’s first book Hothouse something of a masterpiece of business biography. . . . The real success of Hothouse lies in its telling, and Kachka manages a commanding momentum through decades at full wingspan.”
The New Republic - Mary Dearborn
“Dishy . . . Entertaining . . . [A] vivid account.”
NPR - Maureen Corrigan
A Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and IndieBound Bestseller

“Swashbuckling . . . Exhaustively researched and sometimes gossipy . . . Hothouse is the hot book that book people are talking about, and understandably so.”

The Forward - Julia M. Klein
“Scintillating . . . Crammed with delicious anecdotes . . . [A] compulsively readable tale of the creation, triumphs and tribulations of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.”
NPR - Elissa Schappell
"Excellent . . . Hothouse is as engrossing as a biography of any major cultural icon."
The New York Review of Books Jason Epstein
“Gripping . . . [A] wonderful book . . . Hothouse is Pepys for our time, an unblinking account of publishing history as it was made by Roger’s firm, the last of America’s major independent publishing houses. Roger would have been thrilled to publish this fine book, including its frequent and deserved criticisms of himself.”
Dallas Morning News
"Riveting . . . Stellar . . . A vivid narrative . . . Hothouse fits nicely on a shelf next to entertaining business books such as Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs or Michael Lewis’ Moneyball."
Summer 2013 “Hot List” Harper’s Bazaar
“A juicy account of the postwar New York book world . . . Not your average beach read, Hothouse, out August 6, is one nonetheless—a Gossip Girl for those fascinated with the literary elite.”
Summer 2013 “Hot List” Harper’s Bazaar
“A juicy account of the postwar New York book world . . . Not your average beach read, Hothouse, out August 6, is one nonetheless—a Gossip Girl for those fascinated with the literary elite.”
AARP Magazine Mark Athitakis
“Farrar, Straus and Giroux is the Versailles of American publishing. . . . But every palace has its intrigue, as Kachka shows us in this lively, witty account. . . . The extramarital (and often intramural) affairs conducted by publisher Roger Straus in the 1960s and ’70s were legendary—his wife called the company a ‘sexual sewer’—but the entire office apparently would have made Don Draper blush. Kachka dishes up these cold cases piping hot, but his research reveals an equally fascinating business story: How do you balance fine art and filthy lucre?”
Interview
“The truth about industry books is that they rarely interest those who live and breathe outside of the industry in question. In other words, people on the street rarely clamor for tours of the office buildings above them. The rare ability not only to lead the reader in, but induce him to want to stay and peer into the filing cabinets is what makes Boris Kachka’s first book Hothouse something of a masterpiece of business biography. . . . The real success of Hothouse lies in its telling, and Kachka manages a commanding momentum through decades at full wingspan.”
Library Journal
One thinks of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux in lofty terms—after all, it publishes more Nobel prize winners than any other house worldwide—so it's intriguing to see this account described as juicy. Kachka, a contributing editor at New York magazine, draws on five years' worth of research to tell the story of the two men who made FSG an unshakable force in postwar culture: tough-minded founder-owner Roger Straus and sharp, quiet editor Robert Giroux.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451691894
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 8/6/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 597,535
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Boris Kachka is a contributing editor for New York magazine, where he has written and edited pieces on literature, publishing, and theater for more than a decade. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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