Robert B. Silvers, 1929–2017


Robert B. Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books, died on Monday, March 20, 2017, after a short illness.

Mr. Silvers was born in 1929 in Mineola, New York. From the founding of The New York Review in 1963, Mr. Silvers was co-editor of the magazine, with Barbara Epstein. After her death in 2006, he was its sole editor. The Review celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013, and a Martin Scorsese film called The 50 Year Argument documents its history and influence.

Mr. Silvers graduated from the University of Chicago in 1947. From 1952 to 1959 he lived in Paris, where he served with the US Army at SHAPE headquarters and attended the Sorbonne and the École des Sciences Politiques. He joined the editorial board of The Paris Review in 1954 and became its Paris editor in 1956. From 1959 to 1963 he was an associate editor at Harper’s .

Mr. Silvers was a trustee of the New York Public Library and was named a Literary Lion in 2014. He was a trustee of the American Academy of Rome, served on the board of directors of the Paris Review Foundation and the American Ditchley Foundation, and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 1988 Mr. Silvers was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre Nationale du Mérite and in 1998 was named Chevalier de l’Ordre Nationale de la Légion d’Honneur. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 and in 2006 received its award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. In 2006, together with co-editor Barbara Epstein, Mr. Silvers was recognized by the National Book Foundation with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

In 2012, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. The same year, he received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize for his unique contribution to literature, and was also awarded an inaugural New York City Literary Honor by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his contribution to the literary life of the city. He has received honorary degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, Oxford University, and Bard College.

Mr. Silvers is the co-editor of The First Anthology: Thirty Years of The New York Review of Books 1963–1993 and the editor of, among other books, Writing in America, the widely praised essay collection Hidden Histories of Science, Doing It, a collection of essays on the performing arts, and two volumes of The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships. He also translated La Gangrène.

High-resolution photo of Robert B. Silvers for press use
(credit: Annie Schlechter)

About The New York Review of Books

In 1963, a printers’ strike shut down seven New York City newspapers, leaving book publishers without any newspapers or magazines to review their books. The idea of creating a new type of magazine—in which the most interesting minds of our time would discuss current issues and books in depth—was conceived by Barbara Epstein, Jason Epstein, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Robert Silvers.

In February, The New York Review of Books published its first issue. The public responded by buying up practically all the copies printed and writing thousands of letters demanding that the Review continue. In November, the Review began regular biweekly publication.

Since its November 7, 1963, issue—every other week for more than fifty years—Review has continued to discuss central issues of American life and culture. Its probing essays on the arts, fiction, poetry, politics, science, and history have established it as the “preeminent intellectual newspaper” in the English-speaking world, according to The Spectator. From the beginning its editors were determined that the Review should be an independent editorial voice and—having been published since 1984 by Rea S. Hederman—it remains independent today.

The Review’s early issues included articles by such writers as W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Saul Bellow, Robert Lowell, William Styron, Mary McCarthy, James Baldwin, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Isaiah Berlin.

More recent contributors have included Joan Didion, Garry Wills, Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash, Zadie Smith, Mark Danner, Tony Judt, Daniel Mendelsohn, Darryl Pinckney, Paul Krugman, Joyce Carol Oates, J.M. Coetzee, Freeman Dyson, Michael Ignatieff, and Mary Beard.

Selected tributes

Remembering Bob Silvers, NYR Daily
Cass Sunstein, Bloomberg
Mary Beard, The TLS
Laura Marsh, The New Republic
Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
Christian Caryl, The Washington Post