Reviewed by Judy Garrison
In the spirit of full disclosure, this writer acknowledges that she has a 40-year addiction: reading, or at the very least flipping through, the pages of The New York Times, on a daily basis. Occasionally a day is missed, but this is a day with a hole in it (sometimes assuaged by an online visit to nytimes.com.) All those years of scanning and reading, with that impressive masthead always in view on the editorial page, created a curiosity to learn about this famous and private family. The previous publishers with their tenure are listed in a column on the left: Adolph S. Ochs, 1896-1935; Arthur Hays Sulzberger, 1935-1961; Orvil E. Dryfoos, 1961-1963; and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, 1963-1992, with current publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. on top. What other well-known company in America can boast such an unbroken line of succession? Many histories and memoirs have been written about the Times, but this one undoubtedly represents the most personal approach.
The Trust, published in 1999, draws rich, complex, human characters, and also tells the women’s stories, especially Iphigene’s. She was the only child of Adolph and Effie Ochs, a strong, capable woman who stayed involved with the company throughout her life. Following a tradition of male leadership, it was her husband, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who succeeded to the position of publisher upon her father’s death. But she was the glue of the family, and, therefore, of the family business, and that glue insured the company’s survival as a family-held corporation.
The book, at nearly 800 pages, is a delight to read, and provides an informative and often riotous ride through the cultural and social history of the 20th century, particularly New York’s.
But, as this reader learned, The Times’ influence extended way beyond New York and not only because of its wide readership and international outlook. The Founder was a southerner and the company always retained its southern connection.
Adolph grew up in Tennessee and when he was 11 got a job as a carrier boy for the Knoxville Courier. How he parlayed each of his accomplishments into a further advance, becoming at 19 the cofounder of The Chattanooga Daily Dispatch, is a riveting tale. By 1878 The Chattanooga Daily Times was under his sole proprietorship. The story of how this southern raised son of German-Jewish immigrants, with little education and less money, acquired, when not yet forty, the foundering New York Times in 1896 is truly a humdinger!
The family members in each successive generation brought their very different abilities and personalities to meet the needs of the day. What they had in common was a mantle of stewardship that trumped personal ambition and a desire for wealth. How they exercised their sense of responsibility toward the paper, the wider company, and their many relatives, parlays into plotlines worthy of a bestselling multi-generational novel. As readers, we become privy to the process by which editorial decisions were made, with editors being accused by turns of being too aligned with government, and–by government—of failing to suppress information, too concerned with Jewish causes and–by Jewish groups–betraying their roots (most family members were non-observant Jews). Each editor had to make determinations on controversial issues such as whether to publish the Pentagon Papers or the Unabomber’s tract, often despite strong opposition within both the staff and the family. This made for tough calls and high occupational stress levels.
The reader is aided by a family tree diagram, an extensive index and notes. But mostly the reader benefits by the lively storytelling of the authors who prove themselves highly worthy of the extraordinary access they were granted to family members and archives. And the reader is doubly blessed by the leavening of important history with the chronicle of complicated characters whose rich humanity and strong family ethos shines through on every page. ~