The Man Who Published America: A Biography of Bennett Cerf
Under contract to Random House
Expected publication fall/winter 2021-2
Gayle Feldman’s biography of Bennett Cerf (1898-1971), the cofounder of Random House, tells the story of a remarkable American life lived large, at the crossroads of books, Broadway, TV, and Hollywood. It is an independent work of scholarship despite the obvious connection between publisher and subject. Why does a book publisher matter? What goes into making a great, transformative one? How did Cerf – first among equals – and his partners build the pre-eminent American publishing house, a living force able to encompass William Faulkner and Dr. Seuss, Truman Capote and Ayn Rand, Babar the elephant and Gertrude Stein, the poems of Auden and plays of O’Neill, Ulysses, Rosemary’s Baby, Portnoy’s Complaint, and not least, the Modern Library? This biography goes well beyond Random House to take in the history of twentieth-century American publishing, and explore much New York City cultural history along the way. Cerf married two actresses, and knew everybody who was anybody on Broadway and in Hollywood. Why is the most “public” of publishers - who juggled Random House with writing his own books and columns, and came into American homes Sunday nights for sixteen years on What’s My Line? – so forgotten today? This biography tells why, and brings Cerf and his legacy back to life.
This 100-page monograph based on research done during a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the Columbia Journalism School, uses historical research, interviews, observational sessions, and a detailed study of bestsellers and prizewinning/best books to understand American book culture in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.
“Should be required reading for everyone involved in trade publishing, and certainly anyone considering a career in this business”
--The late Les Pockell, Associate Publisher, Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing)
“A truly valuable document”
--Bill Tipper, Co-Editor, The Barnes & Noble Review
“Perceptive, well-written and useful”
--Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher, Beacon Press
A memoir of three generations, all diagnosed with breast cancer. My grandmother, whom I am named after, died of it aged fifty-six, before I was born; my mother, aged forty-seven; and I was found to have the disease when I was eight months pregnant.
“This memoir tells the valiant and dramatic story of [Feldman’s] struggle to survive not only for herself, but for her child....Feldman convincingly describes the distinctive nature of breast cancer...Though Feldman’s story is special, her enterprising and lyrical writing style makes this memoir universal and vital.”- Newsday