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Farewell, Bob Silvers, founder of the New York Review of Books

Blog | By Harry Mount | Mar 30, 2017

It’s the greatest contributors’ page in the history of literary journalism.

Pictured is the cover of the first issue of the New York Review of Books, published in 1963. The two editors were Bob Silvers and Barbara Epstein. Epstein died in 2006 – and Silvers has just died at 87, still editing the paper until 20th March, the day of his death. 

The names on the contributors’ page are a roll call of 1960s American and British literature: W H Auden, Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Jonathan Miller, Susan Sontag, William Styron and Gore Vidal. What’s more, none of them was paid. That first issue sold 100,000 copies.

Please forgive the underlining in the picture. I scrawled on the page before I interviewed Silvers in his Greenwich Village office in 2013.

He was immaculately dressed in suit, tie and debonair scarf, scrupulously correcting proofs as I interviewed him for the Daily Telegraph to mark the NYRB's 50th birthday.

‘The only editorial we ever ran was in that first edition,’ Silvers said, ‘We said we wanted to look at some of the more interesting and important books, and we would not pay attention to trivial books but now and then draw attention to a fraud. And the writing is everything.’ 

That remained his ambition for the next 54 years. An ambition that was fulfilled.

HARRY MOUNT, @mounth.