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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