The longtime editor at Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and the New Yorker thankfully breaks his vow to never write a memoir.
Born in 1931, Gottlieb (Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt, 2010, etc.) grew up as an only child in Manhattan. Brainy, glib, and something of a know-it-all, he did not plan for a publishing career, but he happened into it during his 20s and quickly rocketed to the top. A perceptive reader of both fiction and nonfiction, Gottlieb understood his control-freak tendencies—partially recognized and worked through during rigorous psychoanalysis—but managed to collaborate smoothly with most of his authors and their literary agents, not to mention his bosses at all three employers. Throughout the book, the author offers countless vignettes, anecdotes, and bits of gossip, and most are positive in nature. At times, however, Gottlieb includes passages that savage authors, agents, publishers, and editors, including himself. The feast of names whose literature and/or personalities become skillfully illuminated by Gottlieb is vast and endlessly impressive: Joseph Heller, Jessica Mitford, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Julia Child, John Updike, Barbara Tuchman, Edna O'Brien, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Robert Caro, Nora Ephron, Mordecai Richler, Chaim Potok, William Shirer, Michael Crichton, Kay Graham, Bill Clinton, Renata Adler, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lauren Bacall, Lillian Ross, William Shawn, Sonny Mehta, Lynn Nesbit, Swifty Lazar, Alfred A. Knopf, Blanche Knopf, and Si Newhouse. In addition, the author discusses his relationships with his co-workers (Michael Korda figures prominently, and almost all co-workers receive positive portrayals), parents, two wives, children, and friends. Almost incidentally, Gottlieb scatters suggestions about successful writing and editing techniques and, above all, how to maintain a productive author-editor collaboration.
For lovers of literature and devotees of the New Yorker, this memoir is likely to prove endlessly captivating.