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The Years with Ross (Perennial Classics) Paperback – 14 Jul 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New edition edition (14 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060959711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060959715
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 560,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


At the helm of America's most influential literary magazine for more than half a century, Harold Ross introduced readers to a host of exciting talent, including Robert Benchley, Alexander Wollcott, Ogden Nash, Peter Arno, Charles Addams, and Dorothy Parker. James Thurber captures not only a complex literary giant, but a historic friendship and a glorious era as well.

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Harold Ross died December 6, 1951, exactly one month after his fifty-ninth birthday. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A great book on Ross 22 Nov. 2001
By Lena Friesen - Published on
Format: Paperback
This biography (which I am very pleased to see has become a classic!) is wonderful - a fine personal memoir of the New Yorker founder and editor, Harold Ross. It talks about his life at work and otherwise, from the point of view of one of the pillars of that magazine's early life, James Thurber. The writing is funny (of course), vivid and immediate. Together with Letters From the Editor and Genius in Disguise, it will bring you as close as it is possible to get to Ross, who was, in my humble opinion, one hell of a guy. A must-read for all editors, would-be or otherwise.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
How He Was 6 Aug. 2002
By Atar Hadari - Published on
Format: Paperback
Thurber got into trouble with his friend and co-New Yorker stalwart E.B. White for writing this portrait of their boss and benefactor. Between them the three wrote most of "The New Yorker" in its crucial first decades. These chapters, first written as a series of articles for "The Atlantic", are a model of the rich, primary source biography. Thurber pulls no punches. His Ross is not "a monument" as he puts it, but a man, worth looking at in all his strange glory. I would rate this book alongside Herndon's Life of Lincoln as one of the best accounts of a man by his contemporary, without the veneer of legend and without an undercurrent of envy. Thurber shared an office with Ross for who knows how many years, learned a lot about writing from him (some examples of his razor fine editing are here to learn from), and did a great deal of his best writing in the man's employ. One of Thurber's best books, and that makes it one of the best books there is. You could do worse than read this book before trying to write a life of anyone who's still living. You could do worse than reading this book before trying to write even one article about the life of somebody alive and real.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating author looks at an equally fascinating editor 3 July 2002
By R. Tiedemann - Published on
Format: Paperback
James Thurber was in his 60s when he wrote THE YEARS WITH ROSS. Harold Ross was the first editor of The New Yorker. He was a homely man, awkward in manner and speech. Ross couldn't write, but he was a fine editor. He lacked a good education and was sadly unaware of most social graces so he was often uncouth, but he created one of the USA's outstanding magazines. The New Yorker is a stalwart of literary sophistication.
Thurber's study is not only an intriguing look at a real character of an editor but the story of how a magnificent magazine grew under the guidance of one of the truly talented editors of all time.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Thurber and Ross at The New Yorker 6 Jan. 2005
By A reader - Published on
Format: Paperback
From 1927 to 1951, James Thurber, the humorist and cartoonist, worked under Harold Ross, the editor of The New Yorker. Both men became internationally famous in those years. The New Yorker was a magazine for the sophisticated.

How Ross created this aura is elusive. Thurber tells us about Ross's devotion to the magazine-he was married "for keeps" to his magazine-and about his hairsplitting attention to detail. These good points seem to be heavily outweighed by his bad points. He quit school early. He wasn't much of a reader: his favorite magazine was True Detective and most of the American writers who are now studied (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner) rarely or never appeared in his magazine. He didn't pay much attention to politics. He was a prude. And, as Thurber shows us, he was a poor administrator. He does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. In fact, Ross often seems like a movie version of a harried editor with the gruff personality and tendency to "bark" orders, but with the heart of gold behind the exterior. He was the unsophisticated editor for the sophisticated.

The secret of his success was the way he could inspire devotion, as exhibited by Thurber writing this book in the first place. The two men's live were bound together for over 20 years. We learn how Thurber met E.B. White five minutes before a meeting with Ross; how White helped Thurber publish his cartoons despite Ross's skepticism; how Ross helped keep Thurber going despite his growing blindness. And, despite the fact that Thurber often makes Ross look foolish, it's a loving portrait. Ross shown at his worst is still endearing.

Because of this, it's probably not the best way to find the whole story about the magazine. In a way, it's just as much about Thurber as it is about Ross. That's not so bad, though.

Thurber tells us a lot about the production of magazine and the writers and cartoonists who appeared there. As mentioned before, Ross didn't publish the big names of the time and because of that, most of the New Yorker contributors of his day are now forgotten. Anecdotes about them and a chapter about Ross's system of payment are the low points of the book.

High points include a chapter about Ross and H.L. Mencken, Wolcott Gibb's guidelines for New Yorker style, and the chapter about Ross's friendship/feud with Alexander Woollcott. The story of Thurber's development as a cartoonist is interesting as well.

The Years With Ross is similar to Mencken's memoir,

Newspaper Days, in that it also is about the production of a periodical and about the lives of literary figures who aren't remembered today. However, where Mencken's style ranged from slightly acidic to vitriolic, Thurber's is gentle, even when he is poking fun. Here he describes Katherine White's visit to Alexander Woollcott: "He met her at the door clad as usual in pajama bottoms and dressing gown, and every now and then during his monologue that day his great bare belly would coyly appear and disappear, like a romping sea lion. "

Thurber has a nice style and is an amusing writer. He is the sort of writer who more often provokes a chuckle in the back of a reader's throat than he does convulsive laughter.

This isn't an indispensable American classic, but certain people will like it. Thurber's light humor can still amuse. And people who still believe in the magazine will want to read this book. Ross said that the New Yorker wanted "superior prose, funny drawings, and sound journalism, without propaganda." Recently a book review in the Nation complained that a journalist's collection of articles taken from the New Yorker was handicapped by the "the flat-footed New Yorker style." It was different in Ross's day.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The way they were 27 Nov. 2007
By Cecil Bothwell - Published on
Format: Paperback
I grew up with James Thurber on the shelf, his cartoons peopled my imagination from my earliest years and as reading skill grew, his stories (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Life and Hard Times, etc.) comprised some of my first grown-up literature. Much later I discovered The New Yorker magazine, the acme of commercial journalism and cartoon art in which this author had once played such a central role. By the time I bumped into the magazine it was well into middle age, James Thurber was gone -- he died in 1961 -- and blindness had ended his drawing career ten years earlier. Prodded by a friend who is a great fan of this author, I have looked him up again in recent years and rediscovered the fresh wit and off-kilter humor of one of our best "casual" writers. (As he would label himself.) THE YEARS WITH ROSS is a biography of Harold W. Ross, the eccentric fanatic who founded and edited The New Yorker for twenty-six years (1925-51). Here is the story of how one dogged genius drew together the best editorial talent of an era and lured many of the best writers of the century to fashion his dream. Ross was capable of utter precision and befuddled oversight. His payment schedule for writers was not only the most niggardly in the magazine business, it was an arcane system of word count, add-ons, deductions, bonuses and penalties which left authors baffled. Meanwhile, Ross' personal secretary siphoned off seventy-one thousand dollars in the late 1930s without his notice. He could agonize for weeks over placement of a comma, dueling with an exalted staff which included the authority himself, E.B. White. Though I found this gem as a second-hand paperback which fell to pieces as I turned each page, I see that it and dozens of Thurber titles are in the local library system, and happily commend it to other New Yorker fans. For a taste of the best of casual writing, check out The Thurber Carnival and other collections from this prince of whimsy. (See also my review of Thurber's ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS, Harper & Brothers, 1957)
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