The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books

David Levine's caricature of John Updike in the November 24, 1983 issue
Editor Robert B. Silvers
Categories literature, culture, current affairs
Frequency fortnightly
Publisher Rea S. Hederman
Total circulation
First issue February 1, 1963
Country  United States
Based in New York, New York
Language American English
ISSN 0028-7504

The New York Review of Books (or NYREV or NYRB) is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity. Esquire called it "the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language."[2] In 1970 Tom Wolfe described it as "the chief theoretical organ of Radical Chic".[3]

Robert B. Silvers has edited the paper since its founding in 1963, together with Barbara Epstein until her death in 2006. The Review has a book publishing division, established in 1999, called New York Review Books.


History and description

Early years

The New York Review was founded by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein, together with publisher A. Whitney Ellsworth.[4] and writer Elizabeth Hardwick, and with the backing of Barbara's husband Jason Epstein, a vice president at Random House and editor of Vintage Books. Hardwick had published an essay in Harpers in 1959 called "The Decline of Book Reviewing", a scornful look at the failure of criticism in reviews of the time that inspired Silvers and Epstein. During the New York printing strike of 1963, when The New York Times had ceased publication, the founders of The Review seized the opportunity to establish a vigorous book review. They knew that book publishers would advertise their books in the new publication, since they had no other outlet for promoting new books.[5] The first idea was to make Norman Podhoretz editor, but he chose to stay at Commentary magazine. The group then turned to Silvers, a friend of Jason Epstein's, who had been an editor at The Paris Review and was then at Harper's.[6] Barbara Epstein had become known as the editor at Doubleday of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, among other books, and then worked at Dutton, McGraw-Hill and The Partisan Review.

The first issue of the Review was published on February 1, 1963 and sold out.[2] Silvers says of the editors' philosophy, "We felt you had to have a political analysis of the nature of power in America - who had it, who was affected". The editors also "had one thing in common, it was this feeling of intense admiration for wonderful writers".[7] Early issues included articles by such writers as Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Saul Bellow, John Berryman, Truman Capote, Paul Goodman, Lillian Hellman, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Robert Lowell, Dwight Macdonald, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Norman Podhoretz, Philip Rahv, Susan Sontag, William Styron, Gore Vidal, Robert Penn Warren and Edmund Wilson. The Review pointedly published interviews with political dissidents, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and Václav Havel.[7]

During the year-long lock-out at The Times in London in 1979, the Review founded a daughter publication, the London Review of Books. For the first six months, this journal appeared as an insert in the New York Review of Books, but it became an independent publication in 1980.[8]


The Review has been described as a "kind of magazine ... in which the most interesting and qualified minds of our time would discuss current books and issues in depth ... a literary and critical journal based on the assumption that the discussion of important books was itself an indispensable literary activity."[9] In 2004, The Nation gave a brief historical overview of the New York Review of Books, writing:

the Review took a vocal role in contesting the Vietnam War. ... Around 1970, a sturdy liberalism began to supplant left-wing radicalism at the paper. As Philip Nobile observed in ... 1974 ... the Review returned to its roots and became "a literary magazine on the British nineteenth-century model, which would mix politics and literature in a tough but gentlemanly fashion." ... The publication has always been erudite and authoritative – and because of its analytical rigor and seriousness, frequently essential – but it hasn't always been lively, pungent and readable. ... But the election of George W. Bush, combined with the furies of 9/11, jolted the editors. Since 2001, the Review's temperature has risen and its political outlook has sharpened. ... Prominent [writers for] the Review ... charged into battle not only against the White House but against the lethargic press corps and the "liberal hawk" intellectuals. ... In stark contrast to The New Yorker ... or The New York Times Magazine ... the Review opposed the Iraq war in a voice that was remarkably consistent and unified.[10]

Over the years, the Review has featured reviews and articles by such writers and thinkers as Timothy Garton Ash, Margaret Atwood, Russell Baker, Saul Bellow, Isaiah Berlin, Harold Bloom, Joseph Brodsky, Noam Chomsky, J. M. Coetzee, Frederick Crews, Ronald Dworkin, John Kenneth Galbraith, Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Jay Gould, Murray Kempton, Richard Lewontin, Alison Lurie, Peter Medawar, Daniel Mendelsohn, Vladimir Nabokov, V. S. Naipaul, Peter G. Peterson, John Searle, I. F. Stone, Desmond Tutu, John Updike, Derek Walcott, Steven Weinberg, Garry Wills and Tony Judt. According to the National Book Foundation: "From Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson to Gore Vidal and Joan Didion, The New York Review of Books has consistently employed the liveliest minds in America to think about, write about, and debate books and the issues they raise."[11] In addition to domestic issues, the Review covers issues of international concern, including an often-critical view of Israeli policy and the American Israel lobby "from a Jewish place".[12] The Review also devotes space in most issues to poetry and has featured the work of such poets as Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Ted Hughes, John Ashbery and Richard Wilbur.[13]

Caricaturist David Levine illustrated The New York Review of Books from 1963 to 2007. During that time, he contributed more than 3,800 pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers, artists and politicians for the publication.[14][15] The New York Times described Levine's illustrations as "macro-headed, somberly expressive, astringently probing and hardly ever flattering caricatures of intellectuals and athletes, politicians and potentates" that were "replete with exaggeratedly bad haircuts, 5 o'clock shadows, ill-conceived mustaches and other grooming foibles ... to make the famous seem peculiar-looking in order to take them down a peg".[16] John Updike, whom Levine drew many times, wrote in the 1970s: "Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease."[15]

In addition to reviews, interviews and articles, the Review features extensive advertising from publishers promoting newly published books. The Washington Post described the "lively literary disputes" conducted in its letters to the editor columns as "the closest thing the intellectual world has to bare-knuckle boxing".[2] It also includes a popular "personals" section and, in 2008, it began hosting podcasts.[17][18] In 2010, it launched a blog section of its website.[19] Several of the magazine's editorial assistants have become prominent in journalism, academia and literature, including Jean Strouse, Deborah Eisenberg, Mark Danner and A. O. Scott.[20]

Recent years

For over 40 years, Silvers and Epstein edited the Review together. In 1984, Silvers, Epstein and their partners sold the Review to publisher Rea S. Hederman,[21] who still owns the paper, but the two continued as its editors.[6] In 2006, Epstein died of cancer at the age of 77.[22] In awarding to Epstein and Silvers its Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community in 2006, the National Book Foundation stated: "With The New York Review of Books, Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein raised book reviewing to an art and made the discussion of books a lively, provocative and intellectual activity."[11]

Since Epstein's death, Silvers has been the sole editor. Asked in December 2007 about who might succeed him as editor, the 78-year-old Silvers demurred, "It's not a question that's posing itself".[23] By 2007, illustrator David Levine's failing eyesight forced the Review to turn to other artists and to increase its use of photographs. Levine had provided a distinctive visual image to the Review since 1963. In 2008, the paper moved its headquarters from Midtown Manhattan to 435 Hudson Street, located in the West Village.[23]

On November 10, 2008, the Review celebrated its 45th anniversary with a panel discussion at the New York Public Library, moderated by Silvers, discussing "What Happens Now" in America after the 2008 presidential election. Panelists included Review contributors such as Didion, novelist and literary critic Darryl Pinckney, political commentator Michael Tomasky, historian Garry Wills, and Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco.[24] The 45th anniversary edition of the Review (November 20, 2008) began with a posthumous piece by Edmund Wilson, who wrote for the paper's first issue in 1963. It also featured two key topics of the paper's historical focus: First, an analysis by Yale University professor David Bromwich of the vice presidency of Dick Cheney; and second, British author Zadie Smith's essay that "dismantles the status quo in the form of a review of two new novels – Netherland and Remainder – that she holds up as representing where the novel's been and where it's going".[7]

Critical reaction

The Washington Post calls the Review "a journal of ideas that has helped define intellectual discourse in the English-speaking world for the past four decades.... By publishing long, thoughtful articles on politics, books and culture, [the editors] defied trends toward glibness, superficiality and the cult of celebrity".[2] In a 2006 New York magazine feature, James Atlas stated: "It's an eclectic but impressive mix [of articles] that has made The New York Review of Books the premier journal of the American intellectual elite".[25] In celebrating the 35th birthday of the Review in 1998, The New York Times commented, "The N.Y.R. gives off rogue intimations of being fun to put out. It hasn't lost its sneaky nip of mischief".[26]

In 2008, Britain's The Guardian deemed the Review "scholarly without being pedantic, scrupulous without being dry".[27] The same newspaper wrote in 2004, "The ... issues of the Review to date provide a history of the cultural life of the east coast since 1963. It manages to be ... serious with a fierce democratic edge. ... It is one of the last places in the English-speaking world that will publish long essays ... and possibly the very last to combine academic rigour – even the letters to the editor are footnoted – with great clarity of language."[6] In New York magazine, in February 2011, Oliver Sacks stated that the Review is "one of the great institutions of intellectual life here or anywhere."[28]

Known throughout its history as a left-liberal journal, what Tom Wolfe called "the chief theoretical organ of radical chic",[3] the Review has, perhaps, had its most effective voice in wartime. According to a 2004 feature in The Nation,

"One suspects they yearn for the day when they can return to their normal publishing routine – that gentlemanly pastiche of philosophy, art, classical music, photography, German and Russian history, East European politics, literary fiction – unencumbered by political duties of a confrontational or oppositional nature. That day has not yet arrived. If and when it does, let it be said that the editors met the challenges of the post-9/11 era in a way that most other leading American publications did not, and that The New York Review of Books ... was there when we needed it most."[29] Editor Bob Silvers asserted in 2004: "The pieces we have published by such writers as Brian Urquhart, Thomas Powers, Mark Danner and Ronald Dworkin have been reactions to a genuine crisis concerning American destructiveness, American relations with its allies, American protections of its traditions of liberties.... The aura of patriotic defiance cultivated by the [Bush] Administration, in a fearful atmosphere, had the effect of muffling dissent."[30]

Sometimes accused of insularity, the Review has been called "The New York Review of Each Other's Books".[31] Philip Nobile voiced a mordant criticism along these lines in his book Intellectual Skywriting: Literary Politics and the New York Review of Books.[25] The Guardian called these accusations "sour grapes".[6] In 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "the pages of the 45th anniversary issue, in fact, reveal the actuality of [the paper's] willfully panoramic view".[7]

Other publications

The Review also publishes an Italian edition, la Rivista dei Libri. The book publishing arm of the Review, established in 1999, is New York Review Books, which has three imprints, "NYRB Classics", "NYRB Collections" and "NYR Children's Collection". The NYRB Classics imprint reissues books that have gone out of print in the United States and translations of classics. NYRB Collections publishes collections of articles from frequent Review contributors.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "eCirc for Consumer Magazines." Audit Bureau of Circulations. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Schudel, Matt. Obituary: "N.Y. Review of Books Founder Barbara Epstein", The Washington Post, June 19, 2006, p. B05
  3. ^ a b Wolfe, Tom. "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's", New York Magazine, June 8, 1970, accessed April 20, 2009
  4. ^ Grimes, William. "A. Whitney Ellsworth, First Publisher of New York Review, Dies at 75". The New York Times, June 20, 2011
  5. ^ Harvey, Matt. Brawls and books: Skepticism lives on as New York Review of Books ages but thrives", The Villager, vol. 78, no. 24, November 12–18, 2008, reprinted in Downtown Express, Vol. 21, No. 28, November 21, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Brown, Andrew. "The writer's editor", The Guardian, January 24, 2004
  7. ^ a b c d Benson, Heidi. "New York Review of Books' Robert Silvers", San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 2008
  8. ^ "About the LRB". London Review of Books, accessed 8 June 2011
  9. ^ Profile of the Review, U.S. Consulate General in China
  10. ^ Sherman, Scott. "The Rebirth of the NYRB". The Nation, May 20, 2004, p.1, accessed 18 August 2010
  11. ^ a b "Robert Silvers and... Barbara Epstein To Be Honored", Press release from The National Book Foundation (2006)
  12. ^ Weiss, Philip. "NY Review of Books goes after the Israel lobby, Jewishly". Mondoweiss, May 17, 2010
  13. ^ The New York Review of Books,, accessed 20 January 2010
  14. ^ Margolick, David. "Levine in Winter," Vanity Fair, November 2008
  15. ^ Weber, Bruce (December 29, 2009). "David Levine, Astringent Illustrator, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2009. 
  16. ^ Mohan, Jake. "New York Review of Books Podcast Gets Political (Like It or Not)", October 22, 2008
  17. ^ NYRB podcasts archive. Accessed April 14, 2010.
  18. ^ New York Review of Books Blog. Accessed April 14, 2020
  19. ^ "The Amazing Human Launching Pads". "Who Runs New York", New York magazine, September 26, 2010
  20. ^ Blum, David. "Literary Lotto". New York Magazine, January 21, 1985, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 38–43, accessed April 25, 2011
  21. ^ Obituary, The New York Times, June 17, 2006
  22. ^ a b Neyfakh, Leon. "What's New at The New York Review of Books?" The New York Observer, December 13, 2007
  23. ^ Bradley, Bill. "Joan Didion on Slouching Towards the Presidency", Vanity Fair, November 11, 2008
  24. ^ a b Atlas, James. "The Ma and Pa of the Intelligentsia", New York Magazine, September 18, 2006
  25. ^ Wolcott, James. "35 Years of Fireworks", The New York Times, October 4, 1998
  26. ^ "In praise of... New York Review of Books", Editorial, The Guardian, October 25, 2008, p. 34
  27. ^ Salisbury, Vanita. "Oliver Sacks Has Luxuriant Eyelashes". New York magazine, February 9, 2011
  28. ^ Sherman, Scott. "The Rebirth of the NYRB", The Nation, May 20, 2004, p. 5
  29. ^ Sherman, Scott. "The Rebirth of the NYRB", The Nation, May 20, 2004, p. 2
  30. ^ Bloom, Alexander. Prodigal Sons: The New York Intellectuals and Their World, Oxford University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-19-505177-7; p. 327)
  31. ^ About New York Review Books, The New York Review of Books, accessed 6 May 2009


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