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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 Hardcover – August 6, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

John Farrar (1896–1974), a quick-to-anger “High Episcopalian editor,” and Roger Straus (1917–2004), a wealthy, charismatic “Jewish prep-school jock,” joined forces in 1946 to launch a New York publishing house. In 1955, Straus hired the immensely talented editor Robert Giroux (1914–2008), a working-class “Jersey City Jesuit.” Journalist Kachka tells Farrar and Giroux’s intriguing stories with zest, but Straus is the sun around which this scintillating history revolves. Possessed of “lordly benevolence and canny calculation,” Straus ran a cosmopolitan, intellectual, if shabby kingdom where sex was the currency of the realm, a CIA connection opened doors to overseas writers, parties served as publicity campaigns, and the prestigious literary house of Farrar, Straus & Giroux published a record-making 25 Nobel laureates. 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, including Flannery O’Connor, Tom Wolfe, and Susan Sontag. 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. --Donna Seaman

From Bookforum

For anyone with a sweet tooth for the book world or a thought and a care for American culture after the Second World War, Kachka's book is a brightly lit, well-stocked candy store. Its pages are stuffed with tales of book parties and Nobel Prizes, of Edmund Wilson meeting Susan Sontag at a dinner with Straus, of former employees looking back on their time there, of good ideas gone to the remainder bin and suprising ones to the best-seller list, of advances written off and royalties piling up for some of the best books of our time. Like other essential books about publishing, Hothouse is a rousing reminder that, virtually alone among the professions and trades, a publishing firm is called a "house"--and, to paraphrase Le Corbusier (a rare midcentury culture grandee that FSG didn't publish), what a wonderful machine for living a publisher can be. --Matt Weiland

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451691890
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451691894
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Beowulf on August 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was looking forward to this very, very much: many of my favorite writers began at FS&G and I had recently learned what a terrific editor (and stand-up guy) Robert Giroux was. But this is a dull, dull book that, I suspect, would have been far better as long essay, perhaps serialized in The New Yorker. Almost every page follows the same pattern: paragraphs filled with names of people that the reader (at least this reader) couldn't hold in his head after a few paragraphs. Lots and lots of names are dropped of minor players, office assistants, etc. The total effect is a nest of quacking ducks. I challenge anyone who reads this to retain over 10% of it after an hour or two, other than vague impressions ("Straus was a vulgarian . . . his son didn't like him . . . the FS&G offices were shoddy . . . Straus may or may not have slept with his assistant . . .") A blurb on the back cover (by Toni Morrison) says, "To call Boris Kachka's prose 'brilliant' is not a cliche; it has meaning." Really? "Brilliant?" What in the world is she talking about? He's a fine enough writer, but there are no diamonds in this mine. The one memorable utterance comes from T.S. Eliot on the subject of whether most editors are failed writers. (Eliot said yes, but also added that so were most writers.)
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By G. Landry on August 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
From start to finish, "Hothouse" is a fun, engaging, almost mesmerizing read. This book is part history, part Toto pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of an esteemed publishing house, part "The Devil Wears Prada" grafted onto the New York publishing scene, and part New Orleans style jazz funeral for that once independent house of legends and lovers of the written word. With the conglomerate-corporatization and hyper-commercialization of the New York publishers that began in earnest a quarter of a century or so ago, and the attendant, insipid primacy of the bottom line that has since so woefully cast its dark shadow on what was once a precious harbor of hope for aspiring authors, we may never again see the kind of nurturing of serious talent that was once upon a time the true bottom line of places like Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

This book was particularly enlightening on a personal level since I submitted a manuscript years ago to someone who was then barely known but is now one of the most powerful literary agents in the country (one of his authors, like FS&G's Jonathan Franzen, had his novel selected by Oprah for her book club). He called me up the morning after receiving it, said he had stayed up almost all night reading my novel, and not only told me that he loved my book but also paid me one of the kindest compliments I have ever received, telling me that I reminded him of, and was as good of a writer as, Pat Conroy. But although he tried for two years to get a publisher to take my novel, he could not do so despite his considerable talents.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia C.C. on October 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a bad book. It is clearly exhaustively researched and contains some good and interesting information. But getting through the entire volume is an exhausting slog. It is not entirely the author's fault. The book covers many decades and hundreds of people. After a while, the endless litany of personalities and unconnected anecdotes blur together until a reader ceases caring. I read the book cover to cover, as I always do when reading. But perhaps this book would be more interesting if a reader just opened to a random page, skimmed a few vignettes, and then picked another random page. It is a good reference, perhaps, but not a great read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric Selby on August 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know so little about the publishing business even though I am an avid reader. So when I read Robert Gottlieb's review of it in The New Yorker, I was intrigued.
Fiction can be, for me, less appealing than a really well-written novel. But this book was one I didn't want to put down when I got started. The men involved--Farrar, Straus (especially him) and Giroux are very well depicted and, I assume, accurately so. But more than being just about the rise of an amazing publishing house, this is also about the writers who published with FSG beginning back to World War II years. And the backdrop of wealth behind especially Roger Straus, Jr.
All in all, a great read. Highly recommended to anyone who is an avid reader and has an interest in publishing houses which seem, today, to be far inferior to the likes of FSG.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I see this book as a love affair with the printed word. These are men with a passion for language and with a deep desire to leave an imprint on the world of ideas and literature. This book is also a chatty tale of the private lives which drove the publishing house; Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Farrar is famously quoted as saying, " many a man has been sent to his death by a badly constructed sentence. This is a publishing house whose iconic imprint of the three fishes promises,"You may or may not love this book, but we do." In today's market when "50% of the American market is controlled by four corporation", this premise is deeply comforting. As an amateur reviewer, I am enamored of this tradition, and conversely always ready for some back room

Our story begins with the contrast of the funerals of the subtle Giroux and the flamboyant Straus. The author then lays down the family backgrounds of the publishers. Straus hails from a venerated family From "our town". The background, while vital to understanding of Straus and his motivation, is complex to the point that I became bogged down. In fact, the family credentials of all the publishers can be Byzantine and a bit of a slog. For me, this costs this book a star.

On the other hand the rest of the book is deeply engaging. While the cast remains large and enmeshed, the prose is more buoyant. Certainly through the book we are introduced deeply into the characters of the publishers. As a book lover, I am happily immersed in the stories about many of the great minds to be represented by this house. The history of the House is bolstered with historic references, notably the Holocaust and the subsequent struggle of ideologies.
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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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