Heyday of Farrar, Straus & Giroux Made Publishing House Seem Like 'Mad Men'

Boris Kachka's 'Hothouse' Revisits Profession's Heyday

Kachka Him If You Can: Boris Kachka offers a compulsively readable tale of the creation, triumphs and tribulations of the legendary publishing house Farrar, Straus & GIroux.
Mia Tran
Kachka Him If You Can: Boris Kachka offers a compulsively readable tale of the creation, triumphs and tribulations of the legendary publishing house Farrar, Straus & GIroux.

By Julia M. Klein

Published August 15, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Straus died in 2004, at 87, and Giroux in 2008, at 94. But it seems as though everybody still alive with a stake in the publishing house talked to Kachka, including FSG authors Franzen and Scott Turow, super-agent and Straus nemesis Andrew Wylie, and FSG’s current president and publisher, Jonathan Galassi. (Kachka calls Galassi “adventurous and open-minded, but cautious in the long-term.”)

Kachka also interviewed Straus’s devoted longtime secretary, Peggy Miller, who invariably accompanied her boss on his annual month-long jaunt to the Frankfurt Book Fair and other European destinations. Many foreign publishers assumed Miller was Straus’s wife. (He was actually married to the former Dorothea Liebmann, who tolerated his peccadilloes and had a lover of her own.) Kachka writes, “Peggy will not deny that she was Straus’s mistress, but she won’t discuss it.” Others do, convincingly, with one friend saying on the record, “She was quite surprised… that he wanted her.”

As for Straus, a truly indelible character of giant ego and enthusiasms, Kachka writes: “He was not exactly sexually repressed…. By the turn of 1960, he was probably sleeping with three of his female employees… at the very least… the switchboard operator and the publicity director.”

The liaisons were impressively cordial. “These two mistresses, who were good friends, went shopping together and bought Roger matching bathrobes so that their boss would feel equally at home having ‘lunch’ in either of their two apartments,” Kachka writes.

“Hothouse” is crammed with similarly delicious anecdotes. Dorothea Straus referred to FSG as a “sexual sewer,” and Kachka affirms that the place was “a cauldron of adultery” involving numerous intra-office pairings.

To the contemporary eye, this all looks distressingly antique, a vestige of an era before sexual-harassment guidelines, not to mention big publishing conglomerates. But this “hothouse” atmosphere also bred loyalty — or so Straus thought — and it may well have helped foster FSG’s unique culture. Certainly, it contributes to this book’s allure.

Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review. Email her at julklein@verizon.net or follow her on Twitter at @JuliaMKlein.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.