Scribners tells the inside story of five generations—over 150 years—at the legendary publishing house of Charles Scribner's Sons, beginning with its founding in an unused chapel in downtown New York, continuing through its golden era on Fifth Avenue above the famous landmark bookstore and down to the present day. The author, the fifth of the Charleses to work at that house of celebrated authors, provides here an inside view—"between the covers" of illustrious and notorious books—of the family members, editors, and authors of this colorful literary history.
Among the writers who illuminate this story, we find in the early years Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John Galsworthy, and the artists Charles Dana Gibson, N. C. Wyeth, and Maxfield Parrish, who illustrated Scribner's Magazine as well as Scribner books. Then with the arrival of "editor of genius" Max Perkins, the story takes off into the heights of twentieth-century fiction with Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Marcia Davenport, Alan Paton, James Jones and—above all—Ernest Hemingway, that most loyal and enduring author whose works were published by four generations of Scribners. Famous children's classics The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, and The Yearling also take their place of honor in the firm's contribution to new generations of readers.
This engaging personal account of family history—both in and out of the office—includes the most colorful controversies: from Mussolini and Trotsky to Lindbergh and C. P. Snow, as well as behind-the-scenes adventures of the author's father as he navigated the seas with industry storms and publishing corsairs before finding a safe harbor at Macmillan and finally, after the demise of tycoon Robert Maxwell, Simon & Schuster. The author, an art historian, found himself for thirty years in the company of writers by "an accident of birth." But it proved an adventure beyond his reckoning, here told with the candor and informality of a family gathering, as well as with humor and affection for his father, P. D. James, Louis Auchincloss, Andrew Greeley, and other authors with whom he worked personally. As Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "If it wasn't life, it was magnificent."
Charles Scribner III received his PhD in art history from Princeton University in 1977. He taught Baroque art in Princeton’s department of Art and Archaeology, where he later served on its advisory council, and joined his father at the family publishing house Charles Scribner’s Sons. With Talleyrand as his model, he remained at Scribners through three changes in ownership (Macmillan, Maxwell, and Viacom), overseeing the publication of its literary classics. He was a commentator for television documentaries on Edith Wharton (BBC/PBS), Fitzgerald and Hemingway (A&E Biography).
As an art historian, Scribner has lectured on Baroque art at universities and museums: the Metropolitan, National Gallery, Getty, Frick, and Morgan Library. His books include The Triumph of the Eucharist: Tapestries by Rubens (1982), Rubens (1989), Bernini (1991), The Shadow of God (2006), Home by Another Route (2016), and Sacred Muse (2023). His favorite assignment was an undercover operation for U.S. Customs special agents in Miami Beach in 1991 to trap art thieves and recover a stolen Rubens oil sketch. In 2003 he appeared in the BBC/Bravo documentary The Rubens Robbers (on YouTube) about the successful mission. His webpage is www.charlesscribner.com.
“What an engaging book! The voice is natural, fluent, warm and confident—I always trusted myself to the story, even as it moves forward and back in time, adds erudite flourishes, and intertwines the author’s experiences with the historical narrative. The portrait of Charles Scribner Jr. here shows him to have been a wise and substantial contributor to the world of writing and ideas. An essential contribution to the history of book publishing in the 20thcentury and before.”
“The Scribner family's generative and generational contributions to publishing run like a rhizome throughout this industry, and have grown collections of human creativity and volumes of learning. This wonderful narrative is further contribution to that impact, and conveys how the capacious and courageous hearts and minds of the Scribners found their focus in books, and in so doing forever shaped the reading experience.”
Praise for the author’s earlier books:
“Charles Scribner has revived the art form of 'personal history’ with verve, style, and magical description.”
“This charmingly conceived and beautifully written autobiography The Shadow of God traces the author's spiritual development through his passion for classical music, poetry, and prose.”
“Rubens is the kind of book that every educated reader wants—and rarely gets: a balanced mix of biography, art history, criticism, and cultural interpretation, all grounded in scholarship.”
“Dr. Scribner's concise, scholarly, and eloquently written Bernini is a welcome addition to the literature on the master.”
“The elegantly and engagingly written Sacred Muse is a sheer delight to read and contemplate.”
"A charming memoir of a life in books."
“The result is a lively and refreshing must-read for those interested in the history of book publishing.”