Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Apr 20, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 560 pages
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.
About the author (2010)
這本書2012年由台北的天下文化出版. 不過由於沒索引以及末頁顯然有錯誤 還沒買它.
Henry Luce, the Editor in Chief
Of all the arguments under way these days at the noisy crossroads of the news business, none is quite so basic as the debate over journalistic authority — who has it, and what it is worth.
On the other side is a conviction that a significant population of serious people feel the need for someone with training, experience and standards — reporters and editors — to help them dig up and sort through the news, identify what’s important and make sense of it. That in no way precludes enlisting the audience as commentators, as contributors and as collaborators. (Witness the splendid hybrid of professional and amateur journalism that has kept alive the stream of news from Iran.) But in this view — which I share — the authority of professional journalists is both a valuable convenience for readers without the time or inclination to manage a tsunami of information on their own, and a civic good, in that a democracy needs a shared base of trustworthy information upon which to make its judgments.
Henry R. Luce can be considered a founding father of the authority school — for better and for worse.
Luce, the creator of Time, Life, Fortune and later of Sports Illustrated, was a media tycoon at a time when, as A. J. Liebling put it, freedom of the press belonged to the man who owned one (rather than, as now, to anyone with an Internet service provider), a time when a lone publisher could aspire to influence the course of world events. Luce used his mighty megaphone to promote leaders he admired, to paint a generally uplifting portrait of middle-class America and to advance the cause of American intervention in the world, up to and including an unrelenting passion for the misadventure in Vietnam. What he called “journalism of information with a purpose” was sometimes hard to distinguish from propaganda, and it won him the scorn of liberal intellectuals.
Alan Brinkley, a scholar of the New Deal and a frequent reviewer in these pages, has a gift for restoring missing dimensions to figures who have been flattened into caricature. “Voices of Protest,” for which he won a National Book Award, revisited the cartoon demagogues Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin and established their important role in forcing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pay attention to the economic miseries of the Great Depression.
In “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century,” Brinkley performs a similar service. His Luce is a complicated figure, more tragic than malign. That is not to say this is a particularly flattering profile. The book does full justice to Luce’s outsider insecurity, his blind affinity for men of power and his defects as a family man. But it is a humanizing portrayal, and it credits the role his magazines, Time and Life especially, played in a country growing uneasily into the dominant geopolitical force in the world. Luce’s publications served as a kind of cultural adhesive that bound the middle class to a shared understanding of the world and ushered it through periods of war and economic hardship. It’s hard to imagine any outlet playing such a role in today’s disaggregated media environment.
For those, like me, whose previous image of Luce came largely from David Halberstam’s book “The Powers That Be,” Brinkley’s biography is not especially revelatory, but it is subtler and, in the end, more sympathetic.
“The Powers That Be” depended on many scores of interviews, and it is a propulsive read (or an exhausting one, depending on how you feel about Halberstam’s methamphetamine prose). Brinkley’s book, written 30 years later, when most of Halberstam’s interview subjects were no longer around, relies instead on voluminous letters and diaries. This is largely successful because his subjects, in the days before Twitter and instant messaging, were prolific and literate correspondents.
The man who would, in his most famous essay for Life, proclaim the 1900s “the American century” was born and raised 6,000 miles from American shores. His father was a Presbyterian missionary in China, a Yale-educated and enlightened man who saw his task as not merely converting the Chinese to his faith, but raising them to Western standards of education and prosperity so they would gravitate to Christianity on their own. What the boy took from his father was both an ambition to greatness — a missionary sense of his own — and a deep fear that he could never measure up.
As a student at Hotchkiss and Yale, Luce was an outstanding scholar but painfully aware that he did not come from money; his resentful envy of those born to privilege would inform his and his magazines’ ideal of a contented, inclusive middle class. At Hotchkiss, Luce also met one of the two people who would loom largest in his adult life — both of them simultaneously rivals and partners. Briton Hadden was as iconoclastic as Luce was earnest, as untamed as Luce was disciplined, as charismatic as Luce was socially inept. They competed for honors and attention through prep school and university, and a few years after graduation became collaborators in an audacious journalistic start-up.
Luce and Hadden shared a contempt for what is now called the mainstream media, both the sensational tabloids and the serious dailies, which they regarded as dull and bloated. Brimming with precocious self-confidence, they conceived a weekly digest of news and analysis culled from other publications. The journal that was initially to be called Facts (but morphed into Time before its debut in 1923) promised to scour close to 90 periodicals and amalgamate news from every sphere of life. Its declared mission was to serve “the illiterate upper classes, the busy businessman, the tired debutante, to prepare them at least once a week for a table conversation.”
“They were nothing if not presumptuous — two 24-year-olds, with almost no money and less than two years of professional journalism experience between them, setting out to start a magazine at the tail end of a severe recession,” Brinkley writes.
The new magazine had the qualities we associate now with blogs. It was concise and informal, with plenty of political topspin, rendered in a prose that inspired much satire. (“Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind,” went a parody in The New Yorker.)
By the time the self-destructive Hadden had caroused himself to death at age 31, Time was a tremendous success, and a new business magazine, Fortune, was on the launching pad. A few years later, Luce was planning a “picture magazine” that would be the immensely popular Life. Time, which had begun as an abstract of other publications, and Life and Fortune all became showcases for original work by some of the best writers and photojournalists ever loosed on the world. A number of them — James Agee, Theodore White, Archibald MacLeish, Margaret Bourke-White — have memorable walk-ons in this book.
The most important supporting character in the narrative, though, aside from Hadden, is Clare Boothe Luce, the media mogul’s second wife — playwright, congresswoman, ambassador to Italy and certifiable fruitcake. Her exploits would have supplied abundant copy for the popular magazine that Time Inc. begat after Luce’s death: People. Theirs was a tempestuous, competitive, heartbreaking relationship, featuring explosive fights, romantic detours, a stunted sex life, experiments with LSD (she loved it; he didn’t), and luridly melodramatic letters that Brinkley puts to good use.
From the beginning, Luce’s magazines did not shy away from opinion, and Luce labored, not always successfully, to assure that those opinions were his own. He insisted on the title editor in chief rather than the one Brinkley has chosen, reflecting a role in the content that was aggressively hands-on.
Halberstam described Luce as part hick, noting that “our best editors have always been at least partly hick, everything is new and fresh and possible for them, they take nothing for granted.” Luce’s almost childish curiosity and wonder was the redeeming genius of his magazines.
But his publications were also characterized by an infatuation with power — for a long time, Brinkley says, Mussolini was treated with a fascination “often indistinguishable from admiration” — and a full-throated, mostly Republican partisanship. Luce urged his magazines to promote politicians he loved. He wrote campaign speeches for Wendell Willkie, adored Eisenhower, paid lavishly for excerpts from Winston Churchill’s memoirs and was a little dazzled by Kennedy’s Camelot. Luce was so myopically devoted to the Chinese Nationalist autocrat Chiang Kai-shek that he overrode his own skeptical correspondents and minimized the surging strength of the Chinese Communists. He called for the United States to “free” China, using nuclear weapons if necessary. Luce despised Roosevelt — in part because Roosevelt failed to flatter him, but mostly because he saw Roosevelt as too passive in world affairs — and he used Time to wage a feud with the president.
Fortune, too, had its agenda, as Brinkley writes, “to legitimize modernism, to reward those who contributed to the rationalization of industry and commerce, and to celebrate the sleek new aesthetic that accompanied it.” And Life’s role was to promote an idealized, harmonious middle-class America:
“In an era blighted by Depression, prejudice, social turmoil and the shadow of war, Life offered the comforting image of a nation united behind a shared, if contrived, vision of the ‘American dream.’ ”
Luce’s abiding cause, forged by World War II and fueled by his loathing of Communism, centered on his activist, paternalistic view of America’s role in the world, and on his disdain for those he saw as isolationists and appeasers. It was articulated in his essay “The American Century” and permeated his publications. At one point he actually contemplated transforming Fortune from a business magazine into the “Magazine of America as a World Power.”
Halberstam pronounced Luce “the most powerful conservative publisher in America, and in the ’50s at least as influential as the secretary of state.”
Brinkley leans a bit more heavily than other biographers on the frustration of Luce’s power — not only his inability to move presidents where they didn’t want to go, but the difficulty he had getting his own editors and writers to follow his line. His hatred of F.D.R. did not seriously dent Roosevelt’s political popularity or distort his policies. His belief that the United States should liberate China got no traction.
By the time Luce wrote “The American Century,” the fact that America had emerged from the shadow of Europe to become the most powerful nation on earth was both conventional wisdom and plain truth.
“His magazines were mostly reflections of the middle-class world, not often shapers of it,” Brinkley concludes. “Where Luce was most influential was in promoting ideas that were already emerging among a broad segment of the American population — most notably in the early 1940s.”
Nor was Luce all that conservative. He supported the growth of government power, including the welfare state. He championed civil rights for minorities and was less chauvinistic than his peers on the subject of women’s freedom. He favored trade unions. Though zealously anti-Communist, he was scornful of Joseph McCarthy’s excesses.
“Luce always described himself as a liberal — not a liberal of the left, but a liberal in his openness to new ideas and his embrace of progressive change,” Brinkley says.
And there was a high-mindedness about his endeavors that deserves admiration. Whatever else you think of Luce, he never dived down-market. Whenever his publications flagged, Luce insisted that the way to invigorate them was to make them better, not dumber, more populist, more sensational or more cynical. His objective was never just the expansion of his audience or the demolition of his rivals, but the advancement of what he saw as the greatness of his nation.
In Brinkley’s view, the legacy of Luce lies not in any great influence over American politics or policy, but in the creation of new forms of media that — in their day, before their eclipse by television and then the Internet — “helped transform the way many people experienced news and culture.”
What does that mean, exactly? Luce’s magazines, and later the comforting network news broadcasts in the era of Uncle Walter Cronkite, provided Americans with a shared knowledge, a unifying sense of the world. Brinkley writes:
“The construction of Luce’s publishing empire is part of a much larger phenomenon of the middle years of the 20th century: the birth of a national mass culture designed primarily to serve a new and rapidly expanding middle class. . . . Part of his considerable achievement was his ability to provide an image of American life that helped a generation of readers believe in an alluring, consensual image of the nation’s culture.”
By the time of his death, in 1967, that consensus had been torn asunder, and today there is no vehicle, no voice with the coherent power of Luce’s magazines in their heyday. The last of his breed of media tycoon is a 79-year-old Australian billionaire whose impact has been more corrosive than cohesive.
It would be a mistake to sentimentalize the previous century’s version of journalistic authority. But it is probably fair to say that the cacophony of today’s media — in which rumor and invective often outpace truth-testing, in which shouting heads drown out sober reflection, in which it is possible for people to feel fully informed without ever encountering an opinion that contradicts their prejudices — plays some role in the polarizing of our politics, the dysfunction of our political system and the increased cynicism of the American electorate.