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A Jew, a WASP, and a Catholic walk into the publishing business…

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Jonathan Galassi comments on Farrar Straus & Giroux:

It all began in 1945, when Roger W. Straus Jr., a brash young New Yorker fresh out of the Navy, decided to apply his talent for public relations to starting a publishing house. Straus was the black sheep in a powerful “Our Crowd” family with a burning desire to make good on his own. Roger was no littérateur, but he loved the glamour and excitement of books. He was destined to be the last of a string of Jewish “gentleman” publishers, including Horace Liveright, Alfred Knopf, Bennett Cerf, and Donald Klopfer, who broke into a Wasp-controlled business and ended up dominating it.

An aristocrat with powerful connections (his uncle Harry Frank Guggenheim was the publisher of Newsday; Peggy Guggenheim was a cousin), Roger was a rank newcomer to publishing and knew he needed an editor with a name to give him credibility. So he asked John Farrar, recently cashiered from the Wasp house of Farrar & Rinehart, to come in with him. But it was the arrival of Robert ­Giroux that made Farrar, Straus & ­Giroux, as it came to be called, into a significant player in the business.

So, so tickled that I got to pay a visit to those offices once. Also the offices of the Wylie agency, which is mentioned in the piece. Both on the same day! All it cost me was a couple of bottles of really good Petite Sirah and all my literary hopes and dreams. But that last part came later.


  1. Jonathan Potter says:

    Thanks, Matthew. Ties into what I’m working on right now vis-a-vis McLuhan.

  2. More coincidence:

    Just today, I received for reviewing an FSG imprint: “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” (Joshua Dubler).


    • Jonathan Potter says:

      When I was an undergrad, I volunteered in the “chapel friends” program at the Washington State Pen in Walla Walla. Later I spent a couple of days inside the yard with a big group of Southern Baptist evangelists. I had just read The Message in the Bottle and I recall merging Percy’s concept of news as a form of knowledge with the Four Spiritual Laws, which is what the Baptists had trained me to use. They fit together pretty well. I asked one of the inmates with whom I’d had a long conversation why he never came to the chapel. He said only the the child molesters went there.

      • I once went to Oxford Federal Prison (Oxford, Wis.) with my in-laws when they were involved in prison ministry (REC: Residents Encounter Christ) – full of Indians with DUI’s and white collar types. Interesting mix.

        When I was there, they had an Indian prayer ceremony of some sort. It was wholly Christian, mind you.

        I smoked my first and, to this day, only peace pipe.


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