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July 6: Basic Books

Lawrence Bush
July 5, 2016

artie-rosenthalArthur Rosenthal, who took over a psychoanalytic book club in 1952 and turned it into Basic Books, an imprint that he sold to Harper and Row twenty years later for $4 million, died at 93 on this date in 2013. The New York Times called him “a publisher of intellectual masterworks in an era of fast-buck publishing” who “let his taste in nonfiction and his quasi indifference to profit margins guide him . . .” His mother was deeply involved with psychoanalysis, and Rosenthal’s first published book was a three-volume official biography of Sigmund Freud by Dr. Ernest Jones, one of Freud’s inner circle. Rosenthal also published the early works of Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson. Prior to that, after graduating from Yale in 1941, he served for four years in the military as the chief of publications for General Douglas MacArthur. After selling Basic Books (which became the publisher of political writers ranging from William F. Buckley to Cornel West), he took over the Harvard Press and turned it into a leading publisher of science books, including E. O. Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature (1978), which received the Pulitzer Prize, and Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982).

“When a press like ours (Harvard) can publish a roaring best seller, it helps all university presses, and it increases the bookstores’ recognition that we are not only handing out dead mackerel.“--Arthur Rosenthal

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.