You don't have to be a writer to be an editor but it helps if you read, and Bob Gottlieb began at the age of four with Kipling's Jungle Books, and he hasn't stopped since.
A short list of the authors he has edited would include Joseph Heller (Catch-22,) Chaim Potok (The Chosen,) John Cheever and Mordechai Richler (Barney's Version.) He published works that other publishers rejected, like Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, a muckraking look at the funeral business in America and the New Zealander Sylvia Ashton-Warner's TEACHER, about her radical way to teach and read to Maori children. "The subject of a novel doesn't matter if the writing and feeling were strong and persuasive enough."
And perhaps his greatest achievement, the uninterrupted examination of power by Robert Caro (The Power Broker published in 1974 and the 4-volume, soon to be 5-volume, The Years of Lyndon Johnson .)
After a temporary stint at Macy's in the greeting card department at $45 per week he was offered a management training opportunity that he wisely declined and began looking for a job in publishing. Simon & Schuster beckoned and Jack Goodman, whose authors included Romain Gary, SJ Pereleman and Chas. Addams, offered him a post.
He had found his metier. First with Jessica Mitford, whose THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH earned her 'more than the undertakers' and then with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 he revealed his instincts for choosing writers and their subjects.
Twelve years later he became editor-in-chief at Alfred Knopf, post he held until he was summoned to take over THE NEW YORKER aftre the departure of the legendary William Shawn. But he was always a Knopf man and after stabilizing The New Yorker returned where he continued to discover and develop great writers.
In her memoir YOSSARIAN SLEPT HERE, Heller's daughter Erica describes the author-editor relationship that made Gottlieb so successful: "My father and Bob had real camaraderie and shared an almost mystical respect. No ego was involved, regardless of where Bob's pencil or what he suggested deleting, moving rewriting. To dad every word or stroke of ths editor's pencil was sacrosanct.
Bob Gottlieb s a great editor because with the lightest of touches he know what our manuscripts need but also what you are capable of. He would never just send you back to the drawing board in tears, the way some people say their editors do. His input is always positive and insightful. Diane Johnson
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