The Making of Middlebrow Culture / Edition 1

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The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. Joan Rubin here provides the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, the rise of American middlebrow culture, and the values encompassed by it.

Rubin centers her discussion on five important expressions of the middlebrow: the founding of the Book-of-the-Month Club; the beginnings of "great books" programs; the creation of the New York Herald Tribune's book-review section; the popularity of such works as Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and the emergence of literary radio programs. She also investigates the lives and expectations of the individuals who shaped these middlebrow institutions—such figures as Stuart Pratt Sherman, Irita Van Doren, Henry Seidel Canby, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, John Erskine, William Lyon Phelps, Alexander Woollcott, and Clifton Fadiman.

Moreover, as she pursues the significance of these cultural intermediaries who connected elites and the masses by interpreting ideas to the public, Rubin forces a reconsideration of the boundary between high culture and popular sensibility.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A significant book.

James Gilbert, Reviews in American History

[An] absorbing study.

New York Times Book Review

[An] intelligent and readable book.

Daniel Aaron, New Republic

A welcome scholarly reappraisal of a neglected chapter in America's impulse toward education and self-improvement.

Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rubin's ( Constance Rourke and American Culture ) discussion of American culture from the 1920s through the 1940s is less revealing of middlebrow values and attitudes than of what the people who dispensed packaged culture thought such attitudes were. She offers entertaining details on the instruments of middlebrow culture and their creators: the heyday of the New York Herald Tribune' s books section, the early years of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the ``great books'' movement, the first literary radio shows and the then-popular ``outline'' volume. She examines the tension between informing the public and forming its tastes, between marketing knowledge and standardizing it. Rather less interesting is Rubin's preoccupation with the relationship of her subjects to academia, for example, ``great books'' originator John Erskine (an insider) and BOMC book critic Dorothy Canfield Fisher (an outsider). However, there is much to enjoy in her accounts, and as an added bonus the book itself demonstrates that middlebrow culture lives on: Rubin received NEH funds ``to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public''--thus, it's a middlebrow work. (Mar.)
Examines the form, content, and proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, first half of the 20th century--and the values encompassed by this democratization of culture. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From Barnes & Noble
Examines five middlebrow expressions that connected high culture with popular sensibility: the Book-of-the-Month Club; the "great books" programs; the New York Herald Tribune book review section; the popularity of works like Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and the emergence of literary radio programs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807843543
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1992
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 438
  • Product dimensions: 0.98 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Shelley Rubin, professor of history at the University of Rochester, is author of Constance Rourke and American Culture.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Self, Culture, and Self-Culture in America 1
Ch. 2 The "Higher Journalism" Realigned: Stuart Pratt Sherman, Irita Van Doren, and Books 34
Ch. 3 Why Do You Disappoint Yourself?: The Early History of the Book-of-the-Month Club 93
Ch. 4 Classics and Commercials: John Erskine and "Great Books," 148
Ch. 5 Merchant of Light: Will Durant and the Vogue of the "Outline," 209
Ch. 6 Information, Please!: Book Programs on Commercial Radio 266
Notes 331
Bibliography 373
Index 405
Permissions 415
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