About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made

Ben Yagoda, Author
Ben Yagoda, Author Scribner Book Company $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-684-81605-0
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-306-81023-7
Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-0-7156-2962-8
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Based on the recently opened New Yorker archives, Yagoda's compelling if slow-moving volume follows the workings and fortunes of the famous weekly magazine. Yagoda begins in 1924, just before the New Yorker's start as a humor journal. Founder Harold Ross's stylistic conservatism, his meticulous editing and his ability to delegate authority helped build up the magazine, creating what Yagoda considers its Golden Age in the late 1930s. WWII gave it new reach and seriousness. William Shawn's ascent to editor-in-chief in 1951 brought, at first, a prosperous complacency; his devotion to serious, long essays, and editor Roger Angell's eye for new fiction, created in the '70s, Yagoda argues, the magazine's second great period. But Shawn's eccentric secretiveness, his odd financial arrangements with writers and his unwillingness to allot power laid the grounds for the New Yorker's latter-day troubles. (A brief epilogue covers events after 1987, the year of the 79-year-old Shawn's dismissal.) ""Whole new graphic and literary genres""--the long profile, John O'Hara's short stories, James Thurber's humor, Roz Chast's cartoons--""would not have come to be without the New Yorker""; Yagoda shows why and how they arose. Rich details illuminate the careers of essayists, humorists, critics and journalists, short story writers and cartoonists. Combining anecdote, biography, literary history and a serious look at the business side of the magazine, Yagoda (Will Rogers: A Biography) explores ""the New Yorker as an institution,"" its ""effect on the creative artists linked to it"" and the way the magazine came to epitomize ""the educated American middle and upper-middle classes""; all three stories emerge and shine. 8 pages illus. (Feb.)
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