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ABOUT TOWN by Ben Yagoda


The New Yorker and the World It Made

by Ben Yagoda

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-81605-9
Publisher: Scribner

After five years of research among The New Yorker’s voluminous records, Yagoda (English/Univ. of Delaware; Will Rogers, 1993, etc.) has produced an awesomely comprehensive biography of an American institution. True, this fact-crammed survey is incomplete in two ways: It ends with legendary editor William Shawn’s 1987 departure (the turbulent years since are treated only in a brief epilogue), and it never truly comes to terms with —the role The New Yorker has played in American cultural life,— though it has much to say about the ways the magazine has reflected and commented on its culture. Armed with a formidable knowledge of every important contributor and contribution to The New Yorker, Yagoda traces its development from hardheaded editor Harold Ross’s vision of a metropolitan humor weekly taking its inspiration from the Algonquin Round Table through its maturation during Ross’s 25-year tenure and beyond. Among his arguments: The magazine that would become synonymous with the modern American short story was rarely identified as publishing short stories before 1940; the golden age of the 1930s under Ross (whose regular contributors included Dorothy Parker, John O—Hara, E.B. White, James Thurber, Janet Flanner, Lewis Mumford, Otto Soglow, Peter Arno, and Rea Irvin) was echoed in a second flowering in the 1970s under Shawn (whose stable included John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Pauline Kael, John McPhee, Edward Koren, Saul Steinberg, and Woody Allen); the magazine’s widely remarked decline under Shawn’s successors, Robert Gottlieb and Tina Brown, was inevitable, because the weight of its reputation for setting standards for American style —proved to be too much for a weekly magazine to bear.— Yagoda is a fast man with a superlative, and nearly everything he mentions seems to be either a classic, a tour de force, or the best of its kind. The revelation is how often The New Yorker has earned these rapturous assessments for 75 years. (b&w illus., most not seen)