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Back Then: Two Lives in 1950s New York Hardcover – May 28, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bernays's first date with Kaplan was over lunch. Glancing at the menu, Kaplan recommended the calf's brains and Bernays made a split-second decision: I could never marry a man who ate brains for lunch or, as far as that went, for any other meal. But the not-yet-prestigious writers (he went on to win a Pulitzer for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain; she has written eight well-received novels) did marry, and they have collaborated on this double memoir recounting their remarkably parallel lives in 1950s New York City. Both grew up in well-to-do Jewish families, she on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he on the Upper West Side; both went away to college, majored in English and returned to New York to work in publishing. What makes this book successful is the way both writers capture the diverse sounds and sense of various subcultures in the city: bohemian, literary, Jewish, upper-crust, etc. They alternate chapters, and both writers have entirely distinct voices and styles of writing: Bernays's chapters are narrative driven, personal and filled with anecdote, while Kaplan maintains a certain distance from the subject at hand (that is, himself), offering character sketches of his colleagues and associates. Though the couple eventually leaves New York, the book serves as a hymn to the city of their youth: Still relatively restrained in style, and with as yet only a subdominant glitter, chic, and Babylonian arrogance. Well written and thoughtful, this memoir gives a nice flavor of urban cultural life in the 1950s. B&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Novelist Bernays (Short Pleasures) and biographer Kaplan (Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain), who are married to each other, have written separate narratives of their younger personal and professional lives that, artfully interwoven, provide a vivid picture of what it was like to be gifted in 1950s New York City, when a heady sense of opportunity and possibility prevailed. While they each write candidly of individual experience, they are mindful of being representative as well. The privileged daughter of PR pioneer Edward Bernays before the war, her family occupied an entire floor of the swank Sherry-Netherland Hotel Bernays writes of life at Wellesley and then Barnard, where she majored in English, and of being a member of the Silent Generation whose goal was to draw no attention to herself. For his part, Kaplan, the son of an Orthodox Jew, describes the pain of the growing distance between himself and his father's religion and Russian background. He also recalls a Harvard where learning seemed hermetic. Working in New York's publishing houses, the authors got a good sense of the era's attitudes on such topics as psychoanalysis, sex, babies, civil rights, the arms race, the Holocaust, women's clothing, and the Waldorf salad. In a lighthearted style, this work says much about all the things that made the 1950s a unique decade in American life. Recommended for all libraries. Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (May 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060198559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060198558
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,731,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For two people who both began their professional lives in editing and publishing, it is striking how this book, which describes that very beginning, is in need of a heavy editorial hand (Wachtel -- your hand ain't that merciless). The kind of repetition that is regularly encountered (how many times, and in how many pithy formulations do I have to be informed of the cliche that, "this generation" was the generation of freud fans) is not of an interesting artistic kind produced due the fact that there are two alternating narrative voices. Rather, each writer, repeats him and herself within his and her own narrative.
Stylistic quarrels aside, I was struck by what the authors say in their joint introduction about their first collaboration on an article; the piece, about walks in New York, they say, conveyed, "... too much immersion in fashion magazine prose." While, the authors' claim that they are intent on trying to not let "hindsight, regret and reconsideration" distort their account is too ridiculous to even critique, I do believe that they have successfully conveyed the extent to which the people that they were "back then" (if we are to believe them, this has no bearing on the authorial voice which represents these people!) were "too much immersed" in a certain kind of fashion magazine prose, or at any rate, a certain kind of "let's talk about shoes, hair and makeup and throw in a heavy dose of literary names and references for good measure"-prose.
It has to be admitted that Bernays and Kaplan err on different poles of this prose continuum. Bernays treats us to more excitable detail about socio-fashion related facts, Kaplan leans heavily on name-dropping, french-literary-phrase-dropping and posh-literary-gossip.
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By A Customer on July 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This memoir is doubly delightful because it's written by two of the wittiest and most interesting contemporary writers. We see two visions of New York City life in the 1950's--one male, one female--and have the fun of watching how these two separate lives end up intertwining. (The authors are husband and wife.) The writing is bright and rich--you're in the hands of masters of style from start to finish.
Although anyone interested in the world of publishing will find the book riviting, BACK THEN will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. It's an intriguing record of what the working world was like for educated women in the 50's (it's easy to forget today how things were before the Women's Movement!) and it's also a charming love story.
The two authors grew up wealthy and privileged, but in spite of this, they were clearly not spoiled. They knew and rubbed shoulders with a dazzling array of famous people (Bernays, for instance, is a great niece of Freud; Kaplan got to dance with Marilyn Monroe at a party,) and they bring us into their world with warmth and openness. There's no arrogance here. Both authors are able to smile at themselves and able to make us smile along with them. And smile we do! This is the kind of book that will keep you up reading late at night and make you want to wake your spouse so you can read aloud your favorite sections (if you haven't woken him or her already with your laughter.)
BACK THEN creates the best kind of reader dilemma: youll want to gobble up the story and at the same time you'll want to savor every line.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has been a while since I read this book and so did my husband, sister and daughter. And we all remember how well written and smart those two people are and how educated and interesting they are. I will re-read this book. It will put anyone in a great frame of mind and I give it rave reviews. What interesting lives they led! How well read they are! The BEST.
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