The Book of the Week is “A Matter of Opinion” by Victor S. Navasky, published in 2005. This tome details the decades the author has spent working at the more than 150-year old, politically left-wing weekly opinion journal, The Nation.
Typical for a publication of its nature, The Nation, as of the book’s writing, had turned a profit for only three fiscal years of its existence. It is supposed to have for-profit status. During their histories, all such journals that derive most of their revenue from subscribers and a little from advertising, consider becoming a non-profit organization. The major traits of non-profits include: the ability to accept tax-deductible contributions, lower postage costs, and the fact that they are prohibited from endorsing political candidates and are restricted in their lobbying of lawmakers.
The Nation has been a party to various lawsuits in connection with defamation, intellectual property and free speech issues. One of its goals is to expose the truth about the activities of the American government. Navasky wrote, “… claims of national security are all too often a cloak for government lies, cover-ups, and bureaucratic disinformation.” Started in 1979, one suit brought by Harper & Row dragged on for years over The Nation’s releasing a story on President Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon prior to the release of Ford’s new book; Harper & Row spent an estimated $250,000, but it was seeking damages of $12,500.
In 1989, the tiny, financially struggling Nation wrote a satirical letter to Time, Inc., the target of hostile corporate takeover offers by Gulf + Western and Paramount with an offer of its own. It said, “… we can do better than Paramount’s $175 per share offer… our plan is to pledge the assets of Time, Inc. as collateral on the loan we take out to buy you so cash will be no problem for us.”
Read the book to learn of Navasky’s stories on all the issues involving the running of an opinion journal in the Twentieth Century, into the early years of the Twenty-First Century.
The Book of the Week is “My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of a well-educated Northeastern American male typical for his generation who, born in the 1940’s, entered the publishing profession. However, his mother was exceptional for her generation in that she was an editor at Fortune magazine.
At the then-academically rigorous Swarthmore College, during spring of his senior year, Menaker was “… taking Honors exams– eight three-hour written exams and eight oral exams, all administered by professors from other colleges.” He spent most of his career at The New Yorker, and then switched to Random House about a year after Tina Brown took over the magazine in 1992. He wrote that she halved the quantity of fictional stories appearing in the publication and employees of both the fiction and nonfiction sections competed with each other in kissing up to her to get their pieces published.
Read the book to learn the details of Menaker’s work, of a traumatic event involving his older brother, and his bout with cancer.
This blogger skimmed the book “Blood Will Out” by Walter Kirn, published in 2014. It is a personal account of the author’s relationship with the scammer, Clark Rockefeller, aka Christian Gerhartsreiter. Kirn, a novelist and journalist, befriended him in the late 1990’s.
Growing up, Gerhartsreiter had had permissive parents, who “… excused and coddled their naughty son.” This might have led to his thinking he could get away with bad behavior, including murder, as an adult. He was, to the dismay of his ex-wife, initially caught for a different crime– trying to abscond with his young daughter. This was in 2008, a year fraught with stories of dishonest dealings on a large scale– Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madoff, subprime lenders, etc.
Read the book to learn how and why Kirn was suckered into a lopsided friendship with a swindling phony.
The Book of the Week is “Louis Renault, A Biography” by Anthony Rhodes, published in 1969.
Renault, an automobile entrepreneur, was born in February 1877. When he began his career, there were only two classes of any real importance in France– the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Renault sold vehicles initially for commercial purposes like taxis, public buses and milk delivery trucks.
By 1905, there were 22 intensely competing European automakers. The year 1908 saw six-cylinder engines made by eight French, ten American, three Belgian and one German manufacturer. In 1909, Renault sold his cars in New York. The goal was to sell 1,200 to 1,500 of them.
In the 1920’s, Citroen, Renault’s chief rival, employed many women in his factories. He conducted an ongoing direct-marketing campaign, mailing letters to potential first-time and new car buyers who had visited the local showroom and expressed interest in a purchase. He also made toy models of his cars for kids. Renault and Citroen competed in starting bus lines between cities in France. Citroen was taken over by Michelin after going bankrupt in 1935.
Read the book to learn of Renault’s accumulation of wealth, his company’s corporate culture and labor troubles, what transpired among automakers during the World Wars and through the decades, and how history dealt Renault a serious blow toward the end of his life.
The Book of the Week is “Of Spies and Spokesmen” by Nicholas Daniloff. This long memoir covers the author’s journalism career, which started in the late 1950’s at the London bureau of the newly formed wire service, United Press International.
Daniloff’s father was of Russian descent, and it was suggested to him that Russian expertise might be in demand in the future. He switched to the Moscow bureau, where he covered the Cold War. This blogger was a bit annoyed by the redundancy of two historical incidents recounted in this book: the U-2 Incident and Soviet leader Khrushchev’s ouster.
Daniloff wrote about various ethical issues of his profession and problems he encountered due to the stark cultural differences between the then-Soviet Union and the United States. The former’s media were entirely controlled by the government. In the early 1960’s, the two major press organizations were Izvestia and Pravda, meaning “news” and “truth.” This blogger has read elsewhere that the joke was that the News contained no truth, and the Truth contained no news. The author found this to be largely correct, as he witnessed a myriad of controversial incidents involving other journalists who had to be let go by their employers– the Soviet authorities accused them of injudicious language in their writings or relationships with certain Russians who were their news sources, or of being spies. “In those Cold War days, Soviet national newspapers seemed to delight in attacking Western correspondents and portraying them as hopeless drunks who behaved in boorish fashion.”
In the late 1960’s, the author became a White House correspondent. He then returned to the Soviet Union. Read the book to learn of: the oppressive environment under which citizens and expatriates suffered in the former Soviet Union, the ways the KGB tried to bait the author and the ordeal he underwent due to that environment, how Soviet-American relations changed through the decades of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and the policies of the American government concerning source disclosure and specificity of new stories when officials supply information to journalists.