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The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American…

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (2010)

by Alan Brinkley

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This is an interesting biography of Henry Luce, painting him as a brilliant but very eccentric man. Alan Brinkley details how he built his publishing empire starting with the creation of Time magazine and eventually including Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Luce's publications were generally anti-FDR, but were not explicitly political until the 1940 presidential election. His unreserved support for Wendel Wilkie pushed his magazines into blatant advocacy. From then until 1960, when he endorsed JFK, Luce viewed his publications as a means to exert himself and affect the direction of the country.

His biggest and most obvious project was trying the rally support for Chiang Kai-shek's failing regime in China. Luce was born and raised by American missionaries in China. His interest in the country was rekindled by a trip to China during the second Sino-Japanese War when he met Chiang and his wife. From then, he was convinced that Chiang was one of the greatest men of his era and the only hope for China. He hated Truman, whom he always blamed for losing China, but was mixed about Ambassador John Leighton Stuart, who had been a missionary and was, like Luce, a Presbyterian.

Brinkley describes Luce as a lonely man with few friends and a shaky marriage. His real love was having a project or a mission. That mission was initially creating Time and subsequent magazines but then became Wilkie's presidential run. The mission then became supporting WWII, Chiang, and Eisenhower. Luce appeared to be happiest and most energized when throwing himself into one of the projects. Without that sense of mission, he became restless.

This is one of the most readable biographies I have read, yet it is still informative. It spends a bit too much time on Luce's inner turmoil than I would have preferred, but it does paint a very vivid picture of the man. ( )
  Scapegoats | Sep 24, 2011 |
After recently reading the biography of Joseph Pulitzer, I hoped Henry Luce -- the founder of Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated – would prove to be a more likable subject. Alas, it was not to be.
Born just before the turn of the last century in China to missionary parents, “Harry” started out life as a curious boy and then a teenager traveler who soloed all over the globe, scarfing up every piece of knowledge he could. Educated at Yale, he and a fellow Eli started Time magazine on a shoestring budget back in the 1920s. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Somewhere along the way, he became an obnoxious man who bullied his employees, thought himself superior intellectually to everyone else (I must admit he’s WAS brilliant), and discarded wife #1 and his two children when he met, fell in love with and eventually married Clare Boothe. They deserved each other, as it turned out, and spent three decades making each other’s lives miserable.

I don’t have to like a subject to enjoy a biography – and such is the case with The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Alan Brinkley is a terrific writer and biographer. And he relegated his subject’s tempestuous personal life to the back burner, where it belonged, concentrating on Luce the publisher. It is a grand story which evokes the time in which the subject lived, especially the 1920s and 1930s.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Luce’s political side – and his “friendships” with several presidents and presidential candidates. Reading The Publisher helped me understand why I always have preferred Newsweek over Time. ( )
1 vote NewsieQ | May 31, 2011 |
Henry Luce was the creator of Time, Fortune, Life, Sports Illustrated and their parent company Time Life Books. I was aware of this fact, however, this well written biography informed me how influential Luce really was. Born to Christian missionary parents who lived in China during his formative years, Luce was a precocious and competetive scholar through and including his academic career at Yale. His creative genius was the invention of new magazines with which he hoped to inform, and perhaps educated Mencken's boobousie. As he became sucessfull, he wanted more and more to use his magazines to shape public opinion along paths he believed in. Specifically he wanted a Republican, pro-business voice, with increasing anti-communist leanings. Along the way he perhaps sacrificed journalistic purity; however, he never became "right-wing kooky." He hated FDR, but apparently supported many of this policies. He adored Ike. Although he probably supported Nixon in secret, he also admired Kennedy for his intelligence and vision for America. Above all Luce wanted to affirmatively champion American values with emphasis on the positive - not the negative. Frustrated by his limited role as a publisher, Luce apparently wanted a larger role in the world. His thin skin, however, ensured that he never could have succeeded as a politician. He was somewhat of a cold intellectual who could never develope any intimacy with friends or his wives, whom he serially cheated on. ( )
  nemoman | May 15, 2010 |
Showing 3 of 3
“The Publisher” has its parched passages, most notably when it ventures into the thickets of Luce’s “big” ideas. It works best when the man is well within sight. But Mr. Brinkley is dauntless in assessing Luce’s most important accomplishments, like his “American Century” essay and other efforts to tell Americans what American life was like. Life magazine had no temerity about devoting a major series in the 1950s to “Man’s New World: How He Lives in It.” Now that Man’s New World is so different from anything Henry Luce could imagine, his life and times are more poignant than they once seemed.
Luce is now the subject of a monumental, magisterial biography, the finest ever written about an American journalist, a book that secures Luce's large if problematic place in history. Those with personal knowledge of the inner workings of Luce's empire may complain that Alan Brinkley, a historian, captures only part of the flavor of that strange place -- more on that presently -- but he gets the big picture exactly right and does so with even-handedness, a remarkable achievement considering the controversy that swirled around Luce almost from the moment he stepped onto the public stage in February 1923.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Michael Lind (Apr 1, 2010)
With periodic recourse to the hoard of gossip available from previous books, Brinkley re-creates Luce as an Eminent American, royally and sometimes picturesquely flawed... yet it may not reflect the best spirit in which to approach the Luce phenomenon. Luce’s magazines did change the media world, and one cannot imagine modern journalism without his looming presence. But Luce isn’t easily rendered as an Eminent American. He was an original, touched with madness, in some aspects richly dislikable.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679414444, Hardcover)

Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century.

As the founder of Time, Fortune, and Life magazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world. Born the son of missionaries, Henry Luce spent his childhood in rural China, yet he glimpsed a milieu of power altogether different at Hotchkiss and later at Yale. While working at a Baltimore newspaper, he and Brit Hadden conceived the idea of Time: a “news-magazine” that would condense the week’s events in a format accessible to increasingly busy members of the middle class. They launched it in 1923, and young Luce quickly became a publishing titan. In 1936, after Time’s unexpected success—and Hadden’s early death—Luce published the first issue of Life, to which millions soon subscribed.

Brinkley shows how Luce reinvented the magazine industry in just a decade. The appeal of Life seemingly cut across the lines of race, class, and gender. Luce himself wielded influence hitherto unknown among journalists. By the early 1940s, he had come to see his magazines as vehicles to advocate for America’s involvement in the escalating international crisis, in the process popularizing the phrase “World War II.” In spite of Luce’s great success, happiness eluded him. His second marriage—to the glamorous playwright, politician, and diplomat Clare Boothe—was a shambles. Luce spent his later years in isolation, consumed at times with conspiracy theories and peculiar vendettas.

The Publisher tells a great American story of spectacular achievement—yet it never loses sight of the public and private costs at which that achievement came.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century. As the founder of "Time," "Fortune, "and "Life "magazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world.… (more)

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