Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Book Publishers, Their Editors, and Authors

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The golden age of book publishing, Al Silverman informs us with utter certainty, began in 1946 and lasted into the late 1970s and early 1980s. In his intimate history of those years, Silverman sets out to prove this sweeping conceit by relying on the eyes and ears and memories of the men and women who were there creating that history. Without inhibition, more than 120 of the most notable heads of houses, editors and publishers of this time shared many never-before told stories about how the most important books ...

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Overview

The golden age of book publishing, Al Silverman informs us with utter certainty, began in 1946 and lasted into the late 1970s and early 1980s. In his intimate history of those years, Silverman sets out to prove this sweeping conceit by relying on the eyes and ears and memories of the men and women who were there creating that history. Without inhibition, more than 120 of the most notable heads of houses, editors and publishers of this time shared many never-before told stories about how the most important books in postwar America came into being, and are still being read today.

In The Time of Their Lives we learn how …

— Robert Gottlieb worked with Joseph Heller to make Catch-18, as it was then called, into the world renowned Catch-22…

— Corlies “Cork” Smith took a risk on a shy young man he had never heard of, Thomas Pynchon, after being absorbed by one of his earliest short stories …

— Leona Nevler edited under delicate working conditions with a most difficult author, to make Peyton Place a novel for all generations.

It was Arthur Thornhill, Sr., in his years as president of Little, Brown’s grand publishing house who said about the occupation he loved, “I wanted to be part of something that was good,” his word for publishing in the golden age. In this fascinating and elegiac history, Al Silverman illuminates a period in publishing that was not only good, but formed a distinguishing landmark of culture in American life — a golden time that certainly deserves a new life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Of course, Al Silverman is both a ‘bookman’ par excellence and also the ultimate publishing insider, so it almost goes without saying that he is exactly the right person to write the story of book publishing since the Second World War, in the now bygone age of independent publishers and bigger-than-life editors. With world-class total recall, a clear eye, and a nice sense of humor, he brings back to life the publishers, the authors, the agents, and the editors who have filled his life, and whose personalities, often odd and marvelous, make his book a must for anyone who loves books and the world of book publishing.”

—-Michael Korda, author of Charmed Lives, Another Life, and Ike

Bruce Jay Friedman
Silverman, with the help of his sprightly crew of old-timers, has sketched out a profile of the great houses and the bookmen who gave each one a distinctive character…over all, this is a wonderful book, filled with anecdotal treasures. It could have been written only by a "bookman," someone with printer's ink in his blood and bones. We're often told that books are on their way out. Don't say this to Silverman.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

From upstarts like Barney Rosset's Grove Press to stalwarts like Harper (in various incarnations) under the decades-long direction of Cass Canfield, the great houses of what Silverman sees as publishing's heyday are nostalgically portrayed, from the end of WWII through the early 1980s. Silverman, former longtime head of the Book-of-the-Month Club, calls his book a "love letter" to editors, and though he's frank about people's foibles (like Alfred and Blanche Knopf's mercurial tempers), the tone is largely sentimental. Based on interviews with all the principals, he recounts feats of editorial genius, like how Tom McCormack made All Things Great and Small a blockbuster, which also made St. Martin's a publishing force. And there are stories about the ones that got away (Simon Michael Bessie passed on Lolita), the struggles of women to move up the editorial ladder and the dissolution of great editorial teams as money got tight and houses were sold. It's difficult to see the book's appeal to industry outsiders, but for insiders in a difficult publishing era, it's a delight to share these recollections of the days before Wall Street ruled Publishers Row.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A cozy history of the pre-megacorporate world of book publishing. Don't tell former Book-of-the-Month Club chief and Viking publisher Silverman that golden ages are mythical creatures. From the end of World War II to around the early years of the Reagan regime, editors published to their tastes, knowing that there would be a market somewhere for almost anything they produced-at least anything meritorious. Silverman approvingly records a visit the fledgling American publisher George Braziller paid to his English counterpart Allen Lane, asking his advice; Lane responded, "Take lots and lots of gambles, but small ones." Braziller would do so by, among other things, hiring Dick Seaver, who would do fine publishing himself. Seaver worked with Barney Rosset, the great Grove Press publisher, who took plenty of gambles, sometimes rolling the dice against the censors. And everybody knew Roger Straus and Tom Dunne, as part of a nicely incestuous little world in which a few blocks of Manhattan became the center of national culture, at least insofar as it concerned the literate. Silverman neatly blends oral history and narrative history in telling the story of that world, though, happily, he leaves plenty of room for the coin of the realm-namely, gossip. Thus we learn that Straus, courtly and even fatherly to his authors, was a bear when it came to his editors-and to his own son, it seems, who left the family business to become a photographer-and that the sales conferences of old were fueled by red wine and even marijuana, "and then everyone would go dancing till four o'clock in the morning." Elsewhere Silverman writes of roads not taken and missed opportunities, such as Esquire's refusal to excerptJoseph Heller's now canonical novel Catch-22, Toni Morrison's travails in finding her first publisher and Little, Brown's loss of Gore Vidal to Random House over a little matter of real estate. A pleasing book about books, deserving of a home in a bibliophile's stacks. Agent: Robin Straus/Robin Straus Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312350031
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/16/2008
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Al Silverman entered the publishing industry in 1972 as CEO of Book of the Month Club, after working for Sport magazine for twelve years. Later, he became president and editor-in-chief of The Viking Press, then a part of Penguin USA. He has written several books since.

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