cover image Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire

Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire

Susan Ronald. St. Martin’s, $32.59 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-18002-5

The magazine mogul who turned Vogue into a fashion bible was the calm center of a swirling Jazz Age culture, according to this fizzy biography. Historian Ronald (Heretic Queen) toasts Condé Nast as a canny businessman and marketer who, after his 1909 purchase of Vogue, pioneered a new kind of magazine catering to the upper-crust “New Woman” and high-end advertisers; he then bought Vanity Fair, which became an icon of literary and pictorial flair to a New York “café society” of socialites, artists and celebrities in the Roaring ’20s. Ronald’s Nast is polished, tasteful, unpretentious, polite, kind, and rather dull: he threw fabulous parties in a Manhattan penthouse flowing with bootleg champagne, but often spent them in his library playing bridge. Fortunately, Ronald regularly leaves the bland Nast to follow livelier figures, such as VF theater critic and Algonquin Roundtable wit Dorothy Parker, whom Nast fired for courting libel suits with her acidic reviews. Ronald writes in a vivid, sparkling, amused style—critic Alexander Woolcott “resembled an overfed human owl with eyes like raisins that sunk behind his spectacles into his jowls”—and revels in the era’s repartee, clothes and gossip. Her portrait of Nast doesn’t leave a strong impression, but her evocation of the vibrant scene around him will keep readers entertained. Photos. (Sept.)