AMERICAN DREAMERS by Peter Canning

AMERICAN DREAMERS

The Wallaces and Reader's Digest: An Insider's Story
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A former RD managing editor traces the rise and fall of the service magazine that became America's social mirror and later a rich orphan for profiteers. Wisely, Canning centers this story on the magazine's founders: Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace. As young adults, each followed idealistic paths: she doing social mission work, he aiming to publish a magazine that would get at ``the nub of things''--The Reader's Digest. Months after their marriage in 1921, they published the first issue; 15 years later, despite the Depression, they reached nearly two million households. Yet chinks in the armor appeared. WW II brought a new relationship with US intelligence that would continue for decades and affect articles and even editors. By the late 1930s, the marriage eroded; there were never to be natural children (a result of his WW I wound), but arguments over their ``child'' RD abounded. Still, circulation and an empire of magazine, sweepstakes, and condensed books grew. Not until the Wallaces' age necessitated the formation of a group of directors did the essential mission of the magazine fall. Philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller, who had pet plans for the Wallace money, salesmen-executives who felt marketing RD was like selling any product, and lawyer Barney McHenry, who sought control, comprised the team that funneled two-thirds of Wallace funds ($2.5 billion) to largely non-Wallace purposes. Under them and their hires, tens of hundreds of RD workers were fired, forced to sell stock, or denied pensions. Symbolically, the ashes of the deceased Wallace (d. 1981) and Lila (d. 1984) were dumped unceremoniously, not dusted over their rose garden, as they had desired. Insider that he is, Canning reports the RD demise with anger, sadness, and contempt, which, supported with diligent research and strong storytelling (the RD way), makes for heartfelt and believable reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-80928-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996