The Seven Lives of John Murray

Oh for the days when publishing books was a matter of pride and taste! At least that?s the impression one gets from this witty and opinionated history of the house of John Murray, the longest-lived independent publisher in history. When John Murray VII finally sold to a conglomerate in 2002 it meant the end of a family dynasty -- seven generations of Murrays who rose from their scrappy origins to become exclusive publishers of England's aristos. Lord Byron's bestselling Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812) made him famous (and Murray more solvent) almost overnight, and he topped that achievement with, Don Juan, the sexy and wildly popular poem that found its publisher torn between prudery and profit. The late Humphrey Carpenter, a prolific biographer who died leaving this manuscript to be finished by others, highlights the censorship struggles with the glamorous Byron, culminating in the infamous decision by Murray the Second to burn the libertine poet?s memoirs after his death. Carpenter stays on the lookout throughout for odd and funny details -- Louche authors, sex-crazed printers, and courageous travel writers -- in what could have been a story as dry as an account ledger. For every success story, such as Darwin's Origin of Species, there are countless misses, passing on Wordworth ("Turdsworth" in Byron?s memorable opinion), Moby-Dick, George Bernard Shaw, and, perhaps worst of all, the project that became the OED. Near the end, though, the charismatic Jock Murray (John VI) brought to the house his friend John Betjeman, whose collected poems eventually sold over 2 million copies! As print culture declines, here's a welcome (nostalgic?) reminder of what publishing was like before shareholder profits ruled.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.