January 7, 2014
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Magazine Editors

by Doris Keans Goodwin

I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, an ambitious group biography of Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and the group of writers S. S. McClure gathered for his magazine: Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and the rest.

It’s interesting how many great magazine editors of the 20th century were exceedingly difficult. Ross of The New Yorker was famously insecure and idiosyncratic. His successor, Shawn, was strange in a different way, a nervous prude amongst bold and bawdy writers. And S. S. McClure started out strange and basically went nuts, destroying his magazine in bouts of bipolar frenzy. (After the staff that built McClure’s quit en masse, he hired a bunch of little-known replacements who included Willa Cather; most of them quit, too.)