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Book review: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius

By Alanna Brousseau

editorofgenius“The most important obligation of friendship is to listen,” explained Max Perkins to his second-eldest daughter, Zippy.

Perkins, the editorial momentum behind such literary heavyweights as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe was considerably more than a reviser of words, straddling at times the roles of confidante, money lender, minder, and mediator—often simultaneously.

A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius illuminates the professional and personal life of perhaps the best-known editor in literary history. Immensely more than a chronological account of Perkins’ life, the biography comes alive through vivid anecdotes borrowed from the editor’s personal correspondence with friends, family, and authors.

Perkins was ambitious and quickly garnered a reputation as junior editor at Charles Scribner and Sons by seeking out fresh, young authors and insisting they be published alongside Scribner’s traditionally conservative backlist. Naturally, he was met with resistance. However, his perseverance paid off with the publication of This Side of Paradise, a book by Perkins’ first author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.