With a worldwide circulation of over 145,000, The New York Review of Books has established itself, in Esquire‘s words, as “the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language.” The New York Review began during the New York publishing strike of 1963, when its founding editors, Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, and their friends, decided to create a new kind of magazine—one in which the most interesting and qualified minds of our time would discuss current books and issues in depth. Just as importantly, it was determined that the Review should be an independent publication; it began life as an independent editorial voice and it remains independent today.
The New York Review’s early issues included articles by such writers as W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Robert Penn Warren, Lilian Hellman, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Saul Bellow, Robert Lowell, Truman Capote, William Styron, and Mary McCarthy. The public responded by buying up practically all the copies printed and writing thousands of letters to demand that The New York Review continue publication. And Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein continued as co-editors of the Review until Barbara’s death in 2006 and Robert’s death in 2017.
Within a short time, The New York Times was writing that The New York Review “has succeeded brilliantly,” The New Statesman hailed its founding as “of more cultural import than the opening of Lincoln Center,” and the great English art historian Kenneth Clark observed, “I have never known such a high standard of reviewing.” The unprecedented and enthusiastic response was indicative of how badly America needed a literary and critical journal based on the assumption that the discussion of important books was itself an indispensable literary activity.
From the 1960s into the 21st Century, The New York Review of Books has posed the questions in the debate on American life, culture, and politics. It is the journal where Mary McCarthy reported on the Vietnam War from Saigon and Hanoi; Edmund Wilson challenged Vladimir Nabokov’s translations; Hannah Arendt published her reflections on violence; Ralph Nader published his “manifesto” for consumer justice; I.F. Stone investigated the lies of Watergate; Susan Sontag challenged the claims of modern photography; Jean-Paul Sartre, at 70, described his writing and politics, and how he felt about his blindness; Elizabeth Hardwick addressed the issues of women and writing; Gore Vidal hilariously lampooned bestsellers, Howard Hughes, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Reagans; Felix Rohatyn made the case for a national industrial policy in an influential series of articles; Peter G. Peterson showed why the present Social Security program can’t last; Joan Didion described, in a firsthand account, the situation in El Salvador; McGeorge Bundy, George Kennan, and Lewis Thomas outlined the nuclear threat; Nadine Gordimer and Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote from South Africa on the conflict over apartheid; Vaclav Havel published his reflections from the Czech underground; Timothy Garton Ash reported on the new Eastern Europe; Mark Danner reported on torture from the CIA black sites; Ronald Dworkin wrote of how George W. Bush’s two Supreme Court appointees have created an unbreakable phalanx bent on remaking constitutional law; Freeman Dyson described the scientist as rebel; David Cole revealed how the Bush Justice Department allowed America to become a nation that disappeared and tortured suspects; articles by Paul Krugman, George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jeff Madrick explained America’s failing economy; Tom Powers described the George W. Bush administration’s fundamental shift from diplomacy to military action; Martin Filler wrote on the many makers of modern architecture; and where Bill Moyers described the threat to the environment presented by Evangelical Christians. It is the journal where the most important issues are discussed by writers who are themselves a major force in world literature and thought.
Every two weeks, these and other writers publish essays and reviews of books and the arts, including music, theater, dance, and film—from Woody Allen’s Manhattan to Kurosawa’s version of King Lear. What has made The New York Review successful, according to The New York Times, is its “stubborn refusal to treat books, or the theatre and movies, for that matter, as categories of entertainment to be indulged in when the working day is done.”
The New York Times further described the Review as “one of the most influential and admired journals of its kind, attracting a high-powered roster of writers” and The Chicago Tribune said the Review is “one of the few venues in American life that takes ideas seriously. And it pays readers the ultimate compliment of assuming that we do too.” Look inside and see for yourself.