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About Town: The New Yorker and The World It Made Hardcover – Feb 28 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (Feb. 28 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684816059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684816050
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 3.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,853,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster on May 24 2002
Format: Hardcover
There are at least two ways to view Ben Yagoda's book ABOUT TOWN: 1) as the history of The New Yorker Magazine, how it was conceived and developed and changed over time, and 2) as a social document reflecting its times. The subtitle of the book "and the World it Made" does not seem quite as accurate unless one considers that "world" to be the corporate culture created by the staff led by Ross and Shawn, the two longtime editors who built the magazine. The New Yorker certainly has influenced the world within which it existed along with many other magazines.
Harold Ross, the founder and first editor of the magazine, with the help of Katherine and E.B.White, Thurber, Dorothy Parker, and many other fine editors and writers launched the magazine in the 1920s. The sophisticated and literary focus of the magazine soon captured the fancy of New Yorkers. During the hard days of the depression the magazine actually gained subscribers as readers enjoyed the humorous repartee and cartoons that helped them laugh at their troubles. Many new readers learned of the magazine during WWII as it was handed around the barracks. The GI bill produced many educated readers who remembering their wartime contact with the magazine now subscibed to it. Following WWII, the magazine included more and more "social conscience" articles, for example, John Hershey's essay on "Hiroshima."
Ross died in the early 1950s, and during the fifties under the editorship of William Shawn, the magazine became relatively banal according to Yagoda who says it appealed to stay-at-home wives who enjoyed articles that reminded them of their college days (among other pieces, Mary McCarthy's tales of her Italian travels were featured).
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Format: Hardcover
"About Town", by Ben Yagoda chronicles the majority of the 80+ years, "The New Yorker", has been contributing its unique journalistic culture to everyone, including, "The old lady in Debuque". Mr. Yagoda's book stands out from many books that have been offered to readers about the magazine for while he certainly is aware of the contributions the magazine has made for over 8 decades; he does not seem to be in awe of it or the people to the point it affects his writing. He clearly admires the magazine, but this does not stop his including a wealth of information that documents the eccentric personalities that shaped the magazine. Some may not find the notes flattering, but he objectively shows some of the magazines famous quirks without committing the blasphemy of a young Thomas Wolfe.
The list of writers who either became major or occasional contributors, reads like an amalgam of winners of the highest literary awards that have been offered. The list of those names repeatedly rejected expands the list even further. The book contains dozens of examples of the famous rejection letters that often are almost apologetic about turning down a piece of work while always writing in the first person plural. Having a piece selected by, "The New Yorker", was often considered the ultimate indicator that a new writer had arrived, that he or she had entered the pantheon of the magazine's literary legends. This was true even if the work accepted for publication may not have appeared for months, or even several years. The reception of the envelope stating a writer's work had been admitted was all many authors needed to have their work given unique value and cachet, publication was a bonus.
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By Leslie Farnsworth on Nov. 11 2001
Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: I love The New Yorker. I have been a dedicated subscriber for ten years (and I am only twenty-six), and I read the magazine for years before subscribing under my own name.
Given my disclaimer, perhaps my five-star rating is self-evident. But not necessarily: As a lover of the magazine, I approached this text skeptically. I was interested in an unbiased review, yes, but likely I would have been wounded by a wholeheartedly negative portrayal.
Yagoda loves TNY even more than I do, if that's possible, yet he truthfully approaches his biography of the magazine. The ugliest facts are laid bare, but in a sympathetic whole.
TNY writers, editors, and staff members are lovingly recreated; Yagoda writes so well that I felt I knew these people, I understood these people, and I physically missed them after turning the last page. Like others who have reviewed this book, I wanted more--more, more, more. I felt astonished and sad to have finished the book. Were it a novel, I'd beg for a sequel, even knowing that sequels rarely live up to the original. Even a second-best second-tome would be better than missing the people and the institution that this book brings to life.
Admittedly, TNY readers will love this book vastly more than those unacquainted with its pages. However, if you are even beginning to approach the magazine, you must read this book. You will understand the weekly journal better than you do now, and you will appreciate it far more. I certainly do.
Bravo, Yagoda!
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Format: Hardcover
I have had an ongoing love affair with The New Yorker since I was ten years old. First I read just the cartoons, then the reviews, and finally an obsession with the entire magazine.
Ben Yagoda is the first account I have read that does not have a personal agenda or bias. His research is meticulous and presented in such a lively manner that the reader never feels bombarded with dry facts and statistics. He brings to center stage a fabulous cast: from founder, Harold Ross, A. J. Liebling, E. B. White, James Thurber, Lillian Ross, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger, John Updike to the last "real" New Yorker editor-William Shawn. Mr. Yagoda's talent brings them to life, sets them in the context of The New Yorker, and they greet you from around every corner.
Mr. Yagoda lets us see why and how The New Yorker wielded such a remarkable influence in its heyday from the '30's through the early '60's. The standards set for fact checking, daring fiction, and in-depth "fact" pieces were hard to emulate. I well remember entire issues set aside for arcane subjects. I always gave the prize to Ved Mehta for writing excruciatingly long articles about subjects of which I had absolutely no interest. Yet I eagerly awaited Mehta's biographical sketches. That was part of The New Yorker's charm; they gave their writers the freedom to try different venues. The magazine was famous (or infamous) for their ruthless editing. One of my favorite quoted memos was from Vladimar Nabokov who wasn't so much outraged that The New Yorker had tinkered with his text, but amazed. "Never in my life has such a thing happened." said the bewildered Mr. Nabokov.
"About Town" is a fascinating read that can also be used for a reference book. It is scrupulously indexed and cross-referenced. This is the definitive biography of The New Yorker. Highly recommended.
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