Hothouse by Boris Kachka
The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

71%

7 Critic Reviews

"Hothouse" is bound to be irresistible to anyone working in publishing and enticing to readers intrigued by how literature is cultivated — or was, in the days when the bottom line wasn't the dominant force that it's increasingly become...it's a delectable story about the intersection of art, commerce, passion and personalities.
-LA Times

Synopsis

“Mad Men for the literary world.” —Junot Díaz

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is arguably the most influential publishing house of the modern era. Home to an unrivaled twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and generation-defining authors like T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen, it’s a cultural institution whose importance approaches that of The New Yorker or The New York Times. But FSG is no ivory tower—the owner's wife called the office a “sexual sewer”—and its untold story is as tumultuous and engrossing as many of the great novels it has published.

Boris Kachka deftly reveals the era and the city that built FSG through the stories of two men: founder-owner Roger Straus, the pugnacious black sheep of his powerful German-Jewish family—with his bottomless supply of ascots, charm, and vulgarity of every stripe—and his utter opposite, the reticent, closeted editor Robert Giroux, who rose from working-class New Jersey to discover the novelists and poets who helped define American culture. Giroux became one of T. S. Eliot’s best friends, just missed out on The Catcher in the Rye, and played the placid caretaker to manic-depressive geniuses like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Jean Stafford, and Jack Kerouac. Straus, the brilliant showman, made Susan Sontag a star, kept Edmund Wilson out of prison, and turned Isaac Bashevis Singer from a Yiddish scribbler into a Nobelist—even as he spread the gossip on which literary New York thrived.

A prolific lover and an epic fighter, Straus ventured fearlessly, and sometimes recklessly, into battle for his books, his authors, and his often-struggling company. When a talented editor left for more money and threatened to take all his writers, Roger roared, “Over my dead body”—and meant it. He turned a philosophical disagreement with Simon & Schuster head Dick Snyder into a mano a mano media war that caught writers such as Philip Roth and Joan Didion in the crossfire. He fought off would-be buyers like S. I. Newhouse (“that dwarf”) with one hand and rapacious literary agents like Andrew Wylie (“that shit”) with the other. Even his own son and presumed successor was no match for a man who had to win at any cost—and who was proven right at almost every turn.

At the center of the story, always, are the writers themselves. After giving us a fresh perspective on the postwar authors we thought we knew, Kachka pulls back the curtain to expose how elite publishing works today. He gets inside the editorial meetings where writers’ fates are decided; he captures the adrenaline rush of bidding wars for top talent; and he lifts the lid on the high-stakes pursuit of that rarest commodity, public attention—including a fly-on-the-wall account of the explosive confrontation between Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen, whose relationship, Franzen tells us, “was bogus from the start.”

Vast but detailed, full of both fresh gossip and keen insight into how the literary world works, Hothouse is the product of five years of research and nearly two hundred interviews by a veteran New York magazine writer. It tells an essential story for the first time, providing a delicious inside perspective on the rich pageant of postwar cultural life and illuminating the vital intellectual center of the American Century.
 

About Boris Kachka

See more books from this Author
Boris Kachka is a contributing editor for New York magazine, where he has written and edited pieces on literature, publishing, and theater for more than a decade. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
Published August 6, 2013 by Simon & Schuster. 449 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Business & Economics. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Hothouse
All: 7 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Good
on Apr 16 2013

A thorough study of the gold standard in American literary publishing, complete with sex, sour editors and the occasional stumble into financial success.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Aug 08 2013

Mr. Kachka lets his book’s narrow focus and hero worship obscure any thoughtful view of what has kept Farrar, Straus afloat and how it differs from other publishing companies. It’s just special, that’s all.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from NY Times

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by PAUL ELIE on Aug 02 2013

"Hothouse" sets out FSG's history as a grand struggle between art and commerce..."Let's make a book," Roger Straus liked to say. The time taken to do so is today shrinking from years and months to weeks—a good thing, in many ways. But management experts say it is still all a waste. The colorful history of FSG shows otherwise.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from WSJ online

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Elissa Schappell on Aug 17 2013

Reading Boris Kachka's enormously entertaining "Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux" makes one yearn for that bygone era and its larger than life players.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from NPR

NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Aug 15 2013

Hothouse is jampacked with information about the postwar New York literary world, but, boy, you really have to work as a reader to extract those stories. Dare I say this book needed a stronger editor? Kachka's sentences are name-droppingly dense.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from NPR

Washington Times

Above average
Reviewed by Aram Bakshian Jr. on Aug 27 2013

Yet, despicable as he was in many ways, there was also something impressive about the man — a quality he shared with many of the crude but instinctively canny early Hollywood moguls who couldn’t write, act or direct but whose ability to recognize and channel others’ talents resulted in film masterpieces.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from Washington Times

LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on Aug 01 2013

"Hothouse" is bound to be irresistible to anyone working in publishing and enticing to readers intrigued by how literature is cultivated — or was, in the days when the bottom line wasn't the dominant force that it's increasingly become...it's a delectable story about the intersection of art, commerce, passion and personalities.

Read Full Review of Hothouse: The Art of Survival... | See more reviews from LA Times

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