Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the ‘New Yorker’

Thomas Vinciguerra. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-24003-0
Vinciguerra’s (Backward Ran Sentences) sprawling history of the New Yorker’s early luminaries captures the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of its editors and writers—Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, and James Thurber, as well as founder Harold Ross and various other “fabled oddballs.” Created to provide “smart, urbane journalism,” the magazine quickly became noted for its sharp editing, rigorous fact-checking, and witty cartoons. Ross and Gibbs, the New Yorker’s theater critic, were chiefly responsible for its success, as Vinciguerra painstakingly demonstrates. Anecdotes about fact-checking a story on Walter Winchell or a parody of Time demonstrate how reputations were built—and undone. The most amusing sections focus on the writers’ wit, office romances, and sometimes outrageous behavior, such as Gibbs’s penchant for getting drunk before attending plays he was reviewing. There are also more serious passages, such as a discussion of WWII’s effect on the magazine’s writers, editors, and content, culminating with the landmark publication of John Hersey’s Hiroshima in its entirety in the New Yorker, before its appearance as a book. But in general, Vinciguerra’s tone is more nostalgic than elegiac, and for that reason his book, while slow-going at times, will be embraced by faithful New Yorker readers. 8 pages of illus. Agent: Glen Hartley, Writer’s Representatives. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/27/2015
Release date: 11/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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