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on April 30, 2010
A book almost as much on the famous set of magazines (Time, Fortune, Life, and SI) created by Henry Luce as on the man himself. Anyone interested in the history of American publishing should buy and read 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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on May 31, 2010
This is biography as it should be: - the story of an important American written beautifully, objectively and with interest understanding and sympathy by one of America's leading historians.

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.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2011
Diligent, intelligent, insecure, overachieving media tycoon Henry R. Luce, known best as the co-founder of TIME and founder of LIFE and FORTUNE, was one of the looming figures of his era--the mid-20th century. A controversial magazine king in an era when magazines were king, he is, nearly 45 years after his death, now a fit subject for historians. And by Columbia history professor Joel Brinkley, he is well served.

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.
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on June 13, 2010
It is hard to imagine in these days of the internet that news magazines were once a national center of information, but so it was in the age of Time, Life and other magazines created by the absorbing mind of its publisher, Henry Luce. For four decades Luce was both a contributor and a manipulator of public opinion... a man whose corporate triumphs were often matched by personal disappointments.
It is said that Henry Luce had many friendships but few friends and Alan Brinkley brilliantly co-ordinates the two aspects of Luce's life. This is a biography that works extremely well on parallel levels. The author's narrative, steady and telling, begins with Luce's life as the son of a missionary in China and sweeps us into his American education leading to the founding of Time magazine in 1923. Brinkley outlines the ideas behind future publications well...the advent of Fortune, Life and Sports Illustrated...all with the company ups and downs of start-up publications.

Luce's attempts to sway his magazines (especially Time) toward his own conservative views are nicely documented in "The Publisher". The reader learns much about Luce's loathing of Roosevelt and Truman and his close, if not overly-admiring, friendship with Eisenhower. Brinkley is quick to remind us that although Luce was a politically robust conservative, he was liberal on social matters...especially civil rights.

The emotion and color enter this book while describing Luce's personal life. His marriage to Clare Boothe was fraught with internal upheavals as he fought to keep some semblance of their marriage together (even through their mutual discussions of divorce) meanwhile carrying on more than one affair. If few ever got personally close to Luce, Brinkley gets us as close as one can.

"The Publisher" is a terrific book about one of the chief shapers of opinion of the early and mid-twentieth century. It is an engrossing and revealing account of Henry Luce's life and I highly recommend it.
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on July 23, 2014
a very incisive analysis of a brioiant and troubled man
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on August 7, 2011
I absolutely loved this book. It gave me a whole new perspective on many of the events that have occurred in my lifetime. It was also an intriguing look into the world of magazine publishing -- a world where I've spent the last 15 years. :)
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on December 25, 2010
While this book is very impressively researched, it had a few major flaws for me: 1) it is almost 500 pages long and 2) of the elements in the subtitle, there's not enough "henry luce" and there's too much "his american century." I bought the book on the basis of a good review in the New York Times and the intriguing "see inside" pages on amazon about Luce's childhood in China. In fact, the part of the book covering Luce's life through the establishment of Time Magazine (only about 100 pages) was fascinating to me: how Luce, an outsider, having grown up in a then extremely exotic place, thrust himself into the establishment at Hotchkiss, Yale and soon the larger American society. But after that, much of the book is taken up with a sort of unsatisfying discussion of world events as Luce and those immediately surrounding him saw them. Maybe the guy spent all his time on work (could be), but there is very little in the latter 80% of the book about his personal life. While world events of course are interesting as well, if I want a good history of World War II or post-imperial China, I'm going to buy another book than this one. I'd recommend the first 100 pages, and not the rest.
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on November 14, 2016
Good
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on June 24, 2010
The book was interesting, but -- perhaps not unexpectedly -- more about Luce himself than about Time and Life. What was absolutely not worthwhile was ordering the book through Amazon-related pbshopus. Accidentally clicked to buy it and attempted within seconds to void the purchase; rejected. And then it took three weeks for delivery. What a ripoff! Never again.
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