Saturday, February 05, 2011

Firebrand:: The Life of Horace Liveright
Firebrand:: The Life of Horace Liveright 

"There was a grandeur, a warmth of generosity about Horace Liveright in his relationship to books and writers that has never been equaled" (p 354)

I will never forget the first time that I discovered the Modern Library editions. Growing up in a small town in southern Wisconsin we would only rarely venture to downtown Milwaukee for shopping. It was on one of those rare trips that I found a shelf squirreled away in the book department of Gimbels department store with these relatively inexpensive, for hardcover books, editions of Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Hawthorne and others. It is that occasion that I am reminded of by the delightful biography of Horace Liveright by Tom Dardis. Near the beginning of his story and at the beginning of Liveright's publishing career is the founding of The Modern Library, started with his partnership with Albert Boni who had earlier founded "The Little Leather Library". With a beginning list of authors including Wilde, Kipling, Stevenson, Wells, Dostoevsky and Schopenhauer, they founded what would become a favorite of readers to this day. By the time I discovered the Modern Library it was the property of Random House, thanks to Bennett Cerf, but it was established due to the vision of Horace Liveright. It is this vision that also brought out the first works of Hemingway, Faulkner, O'Neill, cummings, Djuna Barnes and Hart Crane. But the story is also a sad one as Liveright was more visionary than businessman. In spite of publishing successes from authors like Theodore Dreiser, he spent wildly on unsuccessful ventures including Broadway plays and novels that no one wanted leading to the sale of the Modern Library and a brief sojourn in Hollywood at the end of his career. From Wall Street to Hollywood he was the consummate salesman and he revolutionized American book publishing along the way. His story is exciting for this reader who as a young boy had his reading horizons expanded by titles from the Modern Library.

Firebrand: The Life of Horace Liveright by Tom Dardis. Random House, New York. 1995.

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