The Book of the Week is “Genius in Disguise” by Thomas Kunkel, published in 1995. This book describes the life of Harold Ross, who came up with the concept of, and co-founded, The New Yorker magazine.
Born in 1892 in Aspen, Colorado, Ross was bitten by the journalism bug as a teenager. He quit high school to start his career as a news gatherer. He was restless, however, and traveled to various states to ply his trade. Regarding the media, there is nothing new under the sun: While in New Orleans in 1912, “… he demonstrated the agile reporters’ trick for manufacturing news where none exists.”
Ross worked for the army publication Stars and Stripes during WWI. After the war, he moved to New York City, where his social group consisted of the Algonquin Round Table members and other literati such as his fiancee Jane Grant. She worked for the New York Times, and he served as publisher for a weekly magazine for veterans.
In February 1925, Ross decided to break out on his own by starting The New Yorker. He wanted to sell a weekly magazine that resonated with New Yorkers of his generation. The recent introduction of technological advancements in publishing, the early days of radio, and special postal rates made the time ripe for Ross’ brainchild. Besides, at that time, magazine advertising was the way to gain national reach for products and services.
The New Yorker‘s goal was to entertain wealthy readers. So it avoided reporting on politics and economics. Ross was a difficult managing editor because he was a panicky perfectionist. In fact, a “… New Yorker piece might be scoured fifteen or twenty times by six or eight different people, all in the name of perfection” for editing, fact-checking and proofreading. Ross became an indispensable, fearless leader. The other party crucial to the publication was its major initial investor, an heir to the Fleischmann yeast fortune.
Read the book to learn how, ironically, the animosity between Ross and Fleischmann maximized The New Yorker‘s profitability; about the one-article issue of August 1946; the difference between Wolcott Gibbs and Aleck Woollcott; and how the publication changed through the decades. A bygone era in magazine publishing.