CITIZEN NEWHOUSE by Carol Felsenthal


Portrait of a Media Merchant
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The elusive publishing mogul Si Newhouse is portrayed with much verve and little sympathy by Felsenthal, who has previously profiled Katharine Graham (Power, Privilege and the Post, 1993). The Newhouse media empire started with Si’s father, Sam Newhouse, who kept buying newspapers, most of them mediocre, until he gathered one of the most lucrative chains in the nation. He never dictated policy, never caved to unions, and never sold a paper; he just bought more. To teach them the business, he dispatched sons Si and Donald from city to city on their “paper route.” When the family enterprise dropped into the laps of the boys, younger brother Donald ran the profitable papers. Si seemed to find his mÇtier in the byzantine culture of magazines when, in 1959, he bought venerable CondÇ Nast, publisher of Vogue and other valuable periodicals. Under his erring management, CondÇ Nast endures mercurial masthead changes and, Felsenthal establishes, continuously bleeds money. He bought the renowned New Yorker; since then, there’s been internecine warfare and floods of red ink while, in Felsenthal’s view, the magazine lost its way under the guidance of Tina Brown (who recently and famously jumped ship). Si captured Random House, too; then, recently, he sold it to a foreign media conglomerate. Felsenthal has a jolly, gossipy time in the worlds of Brown, Diana Vreeland, and Si’s old pal, the late Roy Cohn. Much of the text is based on interviews with fugitives from the land of hype and buzz, which lends it a certain ad hominem flair. The Newhouse visage, dÇcor, demeanor, and lack of appropriate philanthropic urge—none quite meet the author’s standards (though according to one source, his wife “knows how to seat people”). A former girlfriend compliments Si as “very sensual in his own wee little way.” Here’s a sly and occasionally catty story of publishing—an occasionally feline business—and an absorbing study of a feckless billionaire. (8 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-888363-87-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Seven Stories
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998


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