How a tiny startup press rocked the publishing world.
“[Barney] Rosset [1922-2012] was unquestionably the most daring and arguably the most significant American book publisher of the twentieth century.” So argues Rosenthal (Humanities/Columbia Univ.; Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, 2006, etc.) in this short yet bright and entertaining biography. Born into a well-off Chicago family, Barney (as Rosenthal calls him) went to the finest progressive schools, where his penchant for radical beliefs emerged. After stints at colleges and the Army—where be worked in combat photography and film—the aimless young man took his love of books and some money from his father and purchased Grove Press, a small publisher with a three-book backlist. He had found his vocation. As the company’s sole employee, he quickly added to the list by picking up copyright-free classics like The Monk and The Golden Bowl. His reprint strategy soon became a steady source of income. In 1953, he married Loly, the fledging press’ sales manager, the second of his five wives, numerous girlfriends, and call girls. He could often be “scathing” and difficult to work with, and he picked the manuscripts he liked, regardless of their sales potential. In 1953, he bought the rights to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for $150. Rosset would become his sole American publisher. In 1959, he added a bright young editor/translator to the staff, Richard Seaver. Together, they tapped into Europe’s rich and complex world of literature and began picking up authors like Robbe-Grillet, Genet, and Ionesco, effectively introducing the “avant-garde into literary America’s consciousness.” Rosset had financial success in 1957 with his controversial Evergreen Review. He then took on the establishment with his costly battle to publish D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and then took on an even costlier battle to publish Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and won again.
Illuminating, insightful, and informative—a piquant portrait of a renegade publisher.