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The Publisher

Cover of The Publisher

The Publisher

Henry Luce and His American Century
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Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century.

As the founder of Time, Fortune, and Life magazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world. Born the son of missionaries, Henry Luce spent his childhood in rural China, yet he glimpsed a milieu of power altogether different at Hotchkiss and later at Yale. While working at a Baltimore newspaper, he and Brit Hadden conceived the idea of Time: a "news-magazine" that would condense the week's events in a format accessible to increasingly busy members of the middle class. They launched it in 1923, and young Luce quickly became a publishing titan. In 1936, after Time's unexpected success--and Hadden's early death--Luce published the first issue of Life, to which millions soon subscribed.

Brinkley shows how Luce reinvented the magazine industry in just a decade. The appeal of Life seemingly cut across the lines of race, class, and gender. Luce himself wielded influence hitherto unknown among journalists. By the early 1940s, he had come to see his magazines as vehicles to advocate for America's involvement in the escalating international crisis, in the process popularizing the phrase "World War II." In spite of Luce's great success, happiness eluded him. His second marriage--to the glamorous playwright, politician, and diplomat Clare Boothe--was a shambles. Luce spent his later years in isolation, consumed at times with conspiracy theories and peculiar vendettas.

The Publisher tells a great American story of spectacular achievement--yet it never loses sight of the public and private costs at which that achievement came.

From the Hardcover edition.

Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century.

As the founder of Time, Fortune, and Life magazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world. Born the son of missionaries, Henry Luce spent his childhood in rural China, yet he glimpsed a milieu of power altogether different at Hotchkiss and later at Yale. While working at a Baltimore newspaper, he and Brit Hadden conceived the idea of Time: a "news-magazine" that would condense the week's events in a format accessible to increasingly busy members of the middle class. They launched it in 1923, and young Luce quickly became a publishing titan. In 1936, after Time's unexpected success--and Hadden's early death--Luce published the first issue of Life, to which millions soon subscribed.

Brinkley shows how Luce reinvented the magazine industry in just a decade. The appeal of Life seemingly cut across the lines of race, class, and gender. Luce himself wielded influence hitherto unknown among journalists. By the early 1940s, he had come to see his magazines as vehicles to advocate for America's involvement in the escalating international crisis, in the process popularizing the phrase "World War II." In spite of Luce's great success, happiness eluded him. His second marriage--to the glamorous playwright, politician, and diplomat Clare Boothe--was a shambles. Luce spent his later years in isolation, consumed at times with conspiracy theories and peculiar vendettas.

The Publisher tells a great American story of spectacular achievement--yet it never loses sight of the public and private costs at which that achievement came.

From the Hardcover edition.

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    IAmericans Abroad

    In the beginning they were a tiny vanguard, clinging precariously to the rim of the great Chinese landmass--a few earnest, lonely, often frightened men and women engaged in an almost entirely futile enterprise. They lived among Western merchants but shared little with them. For their task was not to build trade. It was to save souls.
    Generations later, China became a major target of Western capitalism--and a target as well of a much larger and more ambitious missionary project. The missionaries' task remained difficult and in the end mostly futile. But they were no longer lonely and less often frightened, and they promoted not just Christian faith, but Western progress. The legacy of these missionaries was not only their work, but their children as well--who inherited their parents' ambition and their sense of duty to do good in the world. Henry R. Luce was one such person--a man whose great power and influence always reflected his childhood among what he considered modern saints, his father among them, and from whom he inherited his own missionary zeal, which he carried with him into the secular world.

    The first Christian missionaries in China were Italian Jesuits, who arrived in the late sixteenth century, flourished for a time as favorites of the imperial court, lost that favor as a result of doctrinal controversies, and were mainly gone by the 1790s, having converted few and antagonized many. Early in the nineteenth century some American Catholic priests traveled east from Turkey and Palestine and, like their Jesuit predecessors, entered China alone. They too confronted a complex, sophisticated, insular society whose language they could not speak and whose culture they did not understand. Few stayed for very long.
    Starting in the 1830s, as scattered English and American trading outposts grew up along the Chinese coast, another wave of missionaries arrived, this time mostly Protestants. They attached themselves and their families, somewhat uneasily, to the coastal merchant posts and seldom strayed far from them. They were large in ambition but small in numbers. In the decades before the American Civil War, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions--the principal recruiter of missionaries in the United States--sent only forty-six ordained missionaries (and another fifty or so wives, relatives, and assistants) into all of East Asia, fewer than half of them to China. Perhaps that was because those they did send were so singularly unsuccessful. Protestant missionaries spent eighteen years in China before they won their first native convert.
    The Chinese did not become very much more interested in Christianity in the latter decades of the nineteenth century than they had been during the earlier ones. But missionaries became a great deal more interested in China. That was partly because of the expansion of the Western presence in Asia, as American and European businessmen built railroads, created oil companies, and extended their reach inland from the coast. Their growing presence helped open up new areas for missionary activity. More important to the future of the missionary project, however, were events in England and America--several profound shifts in both the theological and institutional foundations of Anglo-American Protestantism.
    The social upheavals of the industrial era and the great scientific advances of the late nineteenth century--most notably the widespread acceptance in England and America of Darwin's theory of evolution--had produced a crisis of faith in many Protestant denominations. Most Anglo-American Protestants responded by moving down one of two new theological paths. One was...

About the Author-
  • Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins Professor of American History at Columbia University. His previous books include Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, which won the National Book Award for History, and The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

    "How fortunate we are . . . that Luce is now the subject of a monumental, magisterial biography, the finest ever written about an American journalist."

  • Bill Keller, The New York Times Book Review "Brinkley has a gift for restoring missing dimensions to figures who have been flattened into caricature . . . The book does full justice to Luce's outsider insecurity, his blind affinity for men of power and his defects as a family man. But it is a humanizing portrayal, and it credits the role his magazines, Time and Life especially, played in a country growing uneasily into the dominant geopolitical force in the world."
  • Jill Lepore, The New Yorker "Brinkley's wonderfully insightful and judicious biography is more than the story of a life; it's a political history of modernity."
  • Janet Maslin, The New York Times "Graceful and judicious . . . Mr. Brinkley is dauntless in assessing Luce's most important accomplishments."
  • Gene Krzyzynski, Buffalo News "A finely calibrated book . . . [Brinkley] brings an even-handed synthesis and a dispassionate sense of history."
  • Claude R. Marx, Boston Globe "Alan Brinkley has done history and media buffs a tremendous service with this well-written and balanced biography of Henry Luce . . . [Brinkley] is especially effective at placing events in historical context, and rarely does his narrative bog down with too much arcane information . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in learning about modern mass communication though the prism of the life of one of its founding fathers."
  • Nicholas Fraser, Harper's "Brinkley re-creates Luce as an Eminent American, royally and sometimes picturesquely flawed."
  • Lydia Beyoud, The Oregonian "Brinkley's thoroughly researched work charts the intersections of the man, magazines and world events that were inextricably bound together, leaving the reader inspired by Luce's hard-won success and the author's sense of detail in brining Luce's story to life . . . While Brinkley writes with the confident voice of an experienced storyteller and the attendant thoroughness and impartiality of a historian of his caliber, his quiet admiration for his subject lies just beneath the surface throughout this account of Henry Luce and his times."
  • Harold Evans, The Daily Beast "The triumph of Brinkley's biography is not in a single thesis but in the disciplined, well-judged way the author presents and knits in telling fragments from the millions of words, letters, interviews, and documents . . . Ambitious, authoritative, and enjoyable."
  • Philip Seib, The Dallas Morning News "A superbly engrossing biography."
  • Andrew Burstein, Baton Rouge Advocate "Commanding . . . a memorable march through Time."
  • Maureen Corrigan, npr.org "A largely sympathetic and terrifically engrossing biography."
  • Harry Levins, St. Louis Post Dis "Brinkley tells of a life once well-known but now as dimly remembered as Life magazine . . . refreshingly nonacademic."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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