Firebrand : the life of Horace Liveright

by Tom Dardis

Hardcover, 1995




New York : Random House, c1995.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jwhenderson
"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.… (more)
LibraryThing member richardderus
Book Circle Reads 57

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Book Description: Horace Liveright was a man of puzzling contradictions - a self-professed socialist and a high-living Wall Street gambler, a deeply caring father and a compulsive philanderer. It was Liveright who first thought of books as front-page news and invented the art of ballyhoo to publicize them. A risk-taker in publishing as well as on Wall Street, Liveright had much to do with the creation of the modern American literary canon. Besides Pound's work, Liveright's firm, Boni and Liveright, brought out T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, all of Eugene O'Neill's plays, Hemingway's In Our Time, Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Faulkner's Soldiers' Pay, and Hart Crane's The Bridge. Daring the fury of the antivice societies, Liveright published Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell. He relished bringing out books that were deemed obscene or affronts to common decency. Out of all this came seven Nobel Prize-winning authors. Liveright was also the cofounder of the Modern Library.

My Review: A very very interesting man, Liveright, and one whose efforts to make books into Events were so successful that he ended up sowing the seeds of the current crisis in traditional publishing. Oh well, there once lived a man who invented both Freon gas and tetraethyl lead additive for gasoline...unintended consequences abound in this life.

Liveright had one of those lives: Son of Jewish immigrants, he clawed his way to the top of the Wall Street bond market, married the daughter of a superrich industrialist, went all cultural by founding a publishing company and producing Broadway plays, and ended up broke, divorced, and alone before dying at forty-nine.

Dardis tries his best to ride herd on this gigantic life, but from beyond the grave Liveright refuses to be tidied up and made to make sense. I liked the fact that Dardis allowed the organic connections of materials to take precedence over strict chronology; but that’s also the weakest point of the book. It’s hard to retain all the details of the mess Liveright made of the different parts of his life as they come up at so many odd moments.

But all in all, I found this an exhilarating look at a man unjustly underknown today. What a ride he rode! And died before it all got old, and he did. Massive fun.
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