Jason Epstein, former Editorial Director at Random House, was a founder of The New York Review and of the Library of America. He is the author of Eating: A Memoir. (Dectember 2013)

Food Tips for Christmas

Joachim Beuckelaer: The Butcher Shop, 1568
As the familiar cultural world slowly, messily deconstructs itself, it was inevitable that cuisine would be transformed as well and that it would begin in California, especially the Los Angeles area with its lively authentic Latino-Asian food culture and its tutelary genius, the brilliant, obsessed Jonathan Gold, the only food …

The Realm of King Roger

Roger Straus congratulating Joseph Brodsky on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, London, 1987
Boris Kachka’s history of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the distinguished publishing house that the late Roger Straus founded in 1945 and ran on a shoestring brilliantly until his death in 2004, is gossip at a very high level: not quite the level of art achieved by Dickens and Proust, who …

A Strike and a Start: Founding The New York Review

Jason Epstein and Barbara Epstein

Of the four friends who met for dinner fifty years ago in Barbara’s and my apartment on West Sixty-Seventh Street during the New York newspaper strike, I am the sole survivor. Though we had no such plan in mind beforehand, it was at that dinner that Elizabeth Hardwick, her husband Robert Lowell, Barbara and I saw all at once the opportunity that would become The New York Review of Books.

How Books Will Survive Amazon

Books at an Amazon logistics center, Bad Hersfeld, Germany, October 23, 2007

So far discussion of the Justice Department’s suit against Apple and several major book publishers for conspiring to fix retail prices of e-books has omitted the major issue: the impact of digitization on the book industry generally. The immediate symptoms are Amazon’s own pricing strategy—which, unlike Apple’s and the publishers’, is to sell e-books below cost to achieve market share and perhaps a monopoly—and the federal suit challenging Apple’s and the publishers’ counterattack. This is more than a conflict between Amazon and publishers. It is a vivid expression of how the logic of a radical new and more efficient technology impels institutional change. Though Amazon’s strategy might force publishers to shrink or even abandon their old infrastructure, demand for physical books, printed and bound, will not disappear.

Jane Jacobs & the Republican Radicals

Protesters in front of Supreme Court in Washington as the court concluded three days of arguments on the constitutionality of President Obama's health care overhaul, March 28, 2012

A team of filmmakers planning a documentary on Jane Jacobs asked me recently about the original reviews of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her famous critique of city planners and their destruction of vital city neighborhoods. I told the filmmakers that writers like Jane are usually attacked by beneficiaries of entrenched institutions and that she was no exception. But I also said that I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response to Jane’s book from New York’s so-called Upper West Side intellectuals, most of whom had previously supported and hoped to strengthen the moderate social welfare state but were now fiercely opposed to it. Had these proto-neocons misread The Death and Life of Great American Cities as a generalized assault on government as such rather than a critique of a particular case of government excess?

Books: Onward to the Digital Revolution

Models showing off Sharp’s new Galapagos e-book readers at a news conference in Tokyo, September 2010
In his acute, prolix study of contemporary book-publishing practice in the United States and Great Britain, John B. Thompson, a British sociologist, warns against drawing facile inferences from digital technology. He writes: The fact that ebook sales finally [came] to life…when the sales of traditional printed books were declining is …

Publishing: The Revolutionary Future

Steve Jobs discussing the iBooks application for the Apple iPad at its debut in San Francisco, January 27, 2010
The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, …

New York: The Prophet

Jane Jacobs with her son Ned in front of a Greenwich Village building, designated for demolition by the City Planning Commission, 1961; photograph by Ruth Orkin from Anthony Flint's Wrestling With Moses
In 2004, her eighty-eighth year, Jane Jacobs published her last book, Dark Age Ahead, in which she mentioned in passing that “sooner or later (the housing bubble) would burst…as all bubbles do when their surfaces are not supported by commensurate increases in economic production.” Dark Age Ahead was uncharacteristically gloomy …

A New Way to Think About Eating

I was a normal boy growing up in the 1930s, worried about Hitler and the Depression but trusting FDR to take care of such things. I played baseball and tennis, rode a Raleigh bike, liked girls, hung out with boys, read more than I could fathom, had a dog named …

Hurry Up Please It’s Time

According to Robert McNamara, quoted with approval by Joseph Cirincione in his invaluable new book, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, the continued possession of large nuclear arsenals by the US and its NATO allies is “insane…immoral, militarily unnecessary and destructive of the non-proliferation regime.” Mr. McNamara …

Books@Google

The expanding jumble of art, science, metaphysics, practical knowledge, merchandise, gossip, and other trivia stored electronically on the World Wide Web is directly descended from the unprocessed babble transmitted haphazardly by word of mouth and from place to place from which our ancestors forged the wisdom of our species. For …

Eating Out

In January 2002, the middle of the journey of his life, Buford, a distinguished magazine editor, abandoned his job and his common sense with such passion as normally afflicts the reproductive appetite of men his age. Quitting The New Yorker, he bound himself as a “kitchen slave,” an unpaid trainee, …

Mystery in the Heartland

The vestigial adaptations to primordial rigors that have shaped human nature become troublesome, even deadly, as environments change. Take for example the human addiction to sugar and fat, the physiological basis for the worldwide success of America’s fast food diet, with its beckoning aroma of sizzling meat, its sweet shakes …

Leviathan

Not many days out to sea and beyond the reach of his parsimonious owners, Captain Ahab of the Nantucket whaler Pequod called his officers and crew together on the afterdeck to announce a change of plans. Instead of filling his hold with oil and returning safely home, he will subordinate …

Up with Downtown

This exhilarating, great-hearted book of a mere ninety-nine pages, written by Mike Wallace, coauthor of the magisterial Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898,[^*] is described with excessive modesty by its author as a compendium of ideas floated mostly by others for reconstructing Lower Manhattan and energizing the …

Reading: The Digital Future

If only there lived a mighty wizard with literary inclinations, readers today could use existing technology to download and read, either on an electronic screen or in a paperbound volume, any book or other text ever written.[^*] Scholars could instantly find their sources within a vast, multilingual virtual library, while …

The Coming Revolution

The widespread literacy resulting from the European invention of movable type half a millennium ago humbled priests and tyrants, revived classical learning, spawned the Enlightenment, and inspired the modern world with all its wonders and woes. Yet the abrupt death of Gutenberg’s epochal technology midway through the final decade of …

The Rattle of Pebbles

Trade book publishing is by nature a cottage industry, decentralized, improvisational, personal; best performed by small groups of like-minded people, devoted to their craft, jealous of their autonomy, sensitive to the needs of writers and to the diverse interests of readers. If money were their primary goal these people would …