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The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century Paperback – April 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The magazines Henry Luce and Time Inc. launched have become institutions, but as Brinkley's magisterial biography reminds us, Luce was only 24 years old when he published the first issue of Time at the tail end of a recession in 1923—not much different from today's digital media entrepreneurs. (Brinkley also details the role of Brit Hadden, Luce's friendly rival at Hotchkiss and Yale and eventual business partner, in making the magazine a success.) Those around Luce frequently described him as arrogant, and his intense sense of purpose increasingly played out in the pages of his magazines, like his insistence (despite numerous warnings from observers on the front lines) on supporting Chiang Kai-shek as a counter to the rise of communism in China. Brinkley appears to have read every issue from the early decades of Time, Fortune, and Life cover to cover, grounding his criticisms of Luce's social and political vision in rigorous detail. He's equally solid on Luce's personal life, including his early years as the son of Christian missionaries in China and his whirlwind courtship of (and rocky marriage to) Clare Boothe Luce. A top-notch biography, and a valuable addition to the history of American media. (Apr. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Invariably drawing comparisons with the political slant of his subject's magazines, reviewers praised Alan Brinkley's evenhandedness in The Publisher. They portrayed the book as an antidote not only to earlier, more negative biographies but to a generation that cannot comprehend the influence once held by Time brethren, especially in this age of digital information. Above all, critics praised Brinkley's feel for the particular prose style of Luce and his magazines, which gave birth to many an expression now considered cliché. A few reviewers commented that while the book is extraordinarily well researched, Brinkley still holds his subject at arm's length. Then again, for a man of such public titanic proportions, he remained a lonely, private man. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Prof. Brinkley tells his story well. He skillfully segués from the personal--Luce's childhood in China, and his youth at Hotchkiss and Yale--to the political as Luce becomes ever more powerful and famous.
Three sections of the book (there are no dull ones) are especially sharp: the first is the author's depiction of Luce's collaboration with his frenemy Brit Hadden to found TIME. We of course know he succeeded, but the author builds up quite a bit of suspense nevertheless, as at the beginning the two young men are desperately short of funds.
The second sequence of note would be the tale of Luce's struggle to launch LIFE, which paradoxically almost failed because of its success--advertisers had paid for a far smaller circulation than the magazine achieved.
And the third deals with Luce's denial that one of his idols, Nationalist Chinese dictator Chiang Kai-shek, could possibly lose his civil war with Mao Zedong. Prof. Brinkley notes that even after Chiang had fled with his remaining forces to Formosa (as Taiwan was then known) Luce was advocating that the Korean War be used as a springboard for his return to the mainland.
Luce was involved with many controversies in his day (e.g., Whittaker Chambers, who would accuse Alger Hiss of spying worked for TIME); he loved to give unsolicited advice to the great (advice that frequently went heeded); and he was often accused, especially by the left, of slanting his publications to reflect his opinions. (In the author's telling, Luce's TIME played a major role in the creation of Wendell Willkie's 1940 presidential candidacy.) To more than some extent this was true. But as Prof. Brinkley notes in the epilogue, Luce's "most important legacy remains his role in the creation of new forms of information and communications at a moment in history when media were rapidly expanding. His magazines were always the most important of his achievements." But, ironically, the professor then goes on to note that "while his company survives still . . . little remains of the goals and principles he established for it."
Notes and asides: Surely a movie can and hopefully will be made of Luce's life, with this book serving as the source material. One would hope the lead role would go to a cinemactor who could instill the role with the proper level of intelligent pomposity.
To those readers to whom Henry R. Luce and Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated were not part of daily life in the twentieth century this superb biography may come off as interesting history. However, to those of us to whom these magazines were weekly reading during those times it's a trip into the past. The Great Depression, World War II, the Truman years, Eisenhower, the Rise of the Middle Class, The American Century, the "Loss" of China, The Vietnam War and its aftermath were all reported by and pictured in these magazines through the mind and eye of their publisher - Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), the ambitious, bright, driven son of Presbyterian Missionaries in China who, although a bit of a prig and never comfortable with himself, brought his view of the American experience to the American people through the pages of these publications which were his - and his alone - with a missionary zeal and a brilliance unmatched in the media world by any one before or since.
Alan Brinkley has beautifully and accurately recounted these years and Henry Luce's experience for us in this absolutely stunning and very readable biography where we get to know Luce who at 23 was already a skilled writer and was fathering Time along with his school chum Britton Hadden. Then we follow his career, his personal life with its many disappointments (including a disastrous and lengthy marriage to a dysfunctional and slightly goofy Clare Booth Luce) and his business life, his huge success, his enormous influence and his immense wealth. And at the end you have to wonder. If you were in Luce's shoes and having lived his life as he did would you say that it had been worth it? I felt sorry for him. But read the book. That's worth it.
Alan Brinkley has written a straightforward biography in clear but unexceptional prose. The material is often interesting because Mr. Luce, his times (the Depression, World War II, the rise of American world power), and his political causes (anti-communism, China, freedom) are interesting. At times, however, the book veers too much into detailing the blasted love episodes of this great, if personally flawed, publisher: essentially--who now cares?
While wrong on some things, Mr. Luce was right on many things, including being early to the threat of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And he had the courage to trumpet his well-founded international political fears, which served to annoy many a New York City liberal.
Above all, Henry Luce created a commercial magazine empire from scratch: a feat that is unlikely ever to be duplicated.
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Brinkley is a fine writer but his subject is just another well heeled, rich, white boy who --- due to a...Read more