“Intellectuals Incorporated” by Robert Vanderlan

Published by June 6, 2011 7:21 pm Leave your thoughts

Whether the publication in the magazine rack is Foreign Affairs, Field & Stream or The Progressive Grocer, it took organization and intelligent efforts for it to appear on schedule and meet with the approval of its intended readership.  Mass circulation magazines are not only a service to readers in our society, they reflect the interests and values of that society.  For nearly a century Time Magazine has been a primary news source.  Along with its sister publications Life and Fortune, it contributed to a shared view of the world and for its public, according to historian Robert Vanderlan in his book “Intellectuals Incorporated”, it served “to bolster the shaky cultural self-confidence of its middle class readers.”

To speak effectively to the great American middle class publisher Henry Luce turned to some of the nation’s prominent intellectuals.  In both form, content and editorial bias, over the years the publications of Time, Inc. were influenced by the work of Archibald MacLeish, James Agee, Whittaker Chambers, William H. Whyte and many others who lent their talents and outlook (though seldom their signatures) to magazines that “functioned like an updated Chatauqua, the adult education camps of the turn of the century that stressed cultural enrichment,” writes Vanderlan. “Time may have been good for you, but it went down more like ice cream than Castor oil.”

Much of “Intellectuals Inc.” details the biographies, attitudes and contributions of Time founders Henry Luce and Briton Hadden and the intellectuals who worked with them. From its inception in 1923, Time Magazine was not intended to be an objective newsmagazine (one of many words it coined).  “Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art and Ideas Inside Henry Luce’s Media Empire” shapes up as an intellectual history of the 20th century (or at least the decades from the 1920s through the 50s).

“For Time Inc., intellectuals improved the quality of the magazines and bolstered their credibility and prestige.  For Luce, the trick was to recruit and retain intellectuals while seeking to control their work.  For intellectuals, the trick was to retain prominent placement in the magazines while maintaining control over what they created.  The conflict between these competing interests formed the core of the history of intellectuals at Time Inc.”
— from “Intellectuals Incorporated”

Vanderlan vividly tells of the early years of Fortune, a business magazine that debuted at the start of the Great Depression of the 1930s and did not shy away from reporting on the suffering of that era.

Robert Vanderlan is a visiting assistant professor of history at Cornell University who has also taught at Ithaca College.   “Intellectuals Inc.” is his first book-length historical work, and he is now writing a history of the concept of American exceptionalism in light of atrocities in our history.

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