THE GREAT AMERICAN MAGAZINE: An Inside History of Life by Loudon Wainwright
Kirkus Star


Email this review


A fondly appreciative history of ""Big Red,"" roughly coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its birth. Longtime staffer Wainwright clearly prefers to examine Life's story through the stories of the people who made it what it was--founder Henry Luce, who never seemed uncomfortable with his picture-book creation and ragged all its editors in turn with startlingly incomprehensible memos about its mission (he was clear only about what he didn't like; John Shaw Billings, the first functioning managing editor, an organizational wizard who created the basic editorial structure; Edward K. Thompson, the M.E. whose peevish genius and disdain for the easy way spurred the magazine to its glory years in the 50's and 60's; George Hunt and Ralph Graves, the last two top editors who presided over Life's decline and death. Interspersed with charming personal reminiscences and vignettes of the many other singular characters who at one time or another served at the magazine, are tales of great stories covered, fiascos aplenty, in flagrante delicto tales of staff misadventures, and a genuinely moving account of its last days. Throughout, Wainwright's sheer zest and love for the place that was his professional home most of his working life shines through. A lover unblinded by sentiment, he acknowledges the failings, the mistakes, the boorishness; yet beneath it all he finds a spirit that was unique. He writes of his fellows: ""In a way, both because it was a magazine where quite wonderful things really could happen, and because they idealized it, the weekly Life became, in memory, more than just a good place to have worked. Somehow it became something that stood for the best in them."" A great story, well told indeed. And there'll be pictures.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1986
Publisher: Knopf