The Farrar Side
Behind the scenes at a vital American publisher
In 1952, six years after publishing its first book, Farrar, Straus & Company nearly failed. Founded by Guggenheim heir Roger Straus with $360,000 from his family and friends’ interests in department stores, mining, and brewing (the former Rheingold Brewery in Brooklyn served as the warehouse for its books), the firm had printed one hundred thousand copies of <em style="font-size: 10pt;">Mr. President</em>, a quasi-official selection of President Truman’s papers and photographs. As Truman’s reelection campaign began, the book looked to be a hit, but a couple weeks after its publication, Truman reversed course and announced he wouldn’t run after all—and the book sank. Straus described it as the time “success almost bankrupted me.” But the firm quickly rebounded, and the episode is perhaps best captured by a Straus saying that years later a business associate had emblazoned for him on a rubber stamp: IT’S JUST A PIMPLE ON THE PRICK OF PROGRESS.
Hothouse is New York magazine contributing editor Boris Kachka’s roaring chronicle of Straus’s illustrious firm, and of his passions, grudges, imprecations, and machinations in building it. For anyone with a sweet tooth for the book world or a thought and a care for American culture after the Second World War, the book is a brightly lit, well-stocked candy store. Its pages are stuffed with tales of book parties and Nobel Prizes, of Edmund Wilson meeting Susan Sontag at a dinner with Straus, of former employees looking back on their time there (“Tennis is to Scribner’s as sex is to Farrar, Straus,” wrote one, in a postcard to the office
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