When Harold Ross founded the New Yorker in 1925, in the thick of the Jazz Age, he set out to publish a smart, lively, Manhattan-centric magazine that catered to the city’s cosmopolitan crowd. But, as the country, and the world, hurtled toward another great war, the publication began to expand and evolve. “The ’40s were when America went global,” said the New Yorker’s editorial director Henry Finder. “They were also when the New Yorker did. Previously, the magazine really was centered on New York. Now it got ambitious and hungry in a way that it hadn’t been.”
At a brainstorming meeting in the spring of 2011 that was attended by several of the magazine’s editors and agent Eric Simonoff, the New Yorker’s literary representation, the idea arose to compile select New Yorker pieces from the decade. The result, The 40s: The Story of a Decade, was published by Random House on May 6 in hardcover and e-book (priced at $30 and $14.99, respectively).
“[You] get a really interesting vantage point on the making of the modern age if you looked at writings from the 1940s, and then at the couple of decades that follow,” noted Finder, who worked with Random House to curate and compile the book. “So you’ve got some of the most ambitious writers of the era, writing frantically and in-depth about the birth of a new cultural and political order.”
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, echoes this sentiment in his introduction to The 40s. “This anthology represents the New Yorker’s great turn,” he writes. “Its journalistic, artistic, and political awakening.”
The ample volume (which weighs in at almost 700 pages) includes pieces by E.B. White, Janet Flanner, George Orwell, and Rebecca West. It also features works by some of the foremost fiction writers and poets of the age, like John Cheever, Shirley Jackson, and Elizabeth Bishop. With such a rich archive, one of the more difficult tasks, said Finder, was “un-choosing” the selections. “We wanted the final book to be generous and capacious, but we didn’t want it to be hernia-inducing,” he said.
One “really exciting element” of the new series, according to Random House’s Noah Eaker, who edited the book, is that present-day New Yorker staff writers contributed original material to the anthology. “Whether it’s Zadie Smith introducing some of the finest short stories of the decade, or George Packer writing about war journalism, or David Denby on 1940s movies, these new takes help anchor and contextualize the classic pieces,” said Eaker. “There were all sorts of angles for writers today,” added Finder. “All sorts of ways to engage with the material, to engage with their ancestors, and, of course, to engage with the 40s.”
The New Yorker has placed Remnick’s introduction on its website and is promoting the book through other social media channels. Remnick has appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss The 40s and is scheduled for a Charlie Rose interview.
Random House will be releasing The 50s and The 60s in spring 2015 and 2016, respectively.