A Political Education
Coming of Age in Paris and New York
“A beautifully written and melancholy update, if you will, of Democracy in America by the Frenchman de Tocqueville, this book also written by a man born in France, but one who has spent most of his life in America, most famously as a publisher of books in support of peace and we the people.” —Kurt Vonnegut
André Schiffrin was born the son of one of France’s most esteemed publishers, in a world peopled by some of the day’s leading writers and intellectuals, such as André Gide and Jean-Paul Sartre. But this world was torn apart when the Nazis marched into Paris on young André’s fifth birthday.
Beginning with the family’s dramatic escape to Casablanca—thanks to the help of the legendary Varian Fry—and eventually New York, A Political Education recounts the surprising twists and turns of a life that saw Schiffrin become, himself, one of the world’s most respected publishers.
Emerging from the émigre community of wartime New York (a community including Hannah Arendt and Kurt Wolff), he would go on to develop an insatiable appetite for literature and politics: heading a tiny student group at Yale that he renamed the Students for a Democratic Society—the SDS … leading student groups at European conferences—once, as an unwitting front man for the CIA … and eventually being appointed by Random House chief Bennet Cerf to head the very imprint co-founded by his father—Pantheon. There, he would discover and publish some of the world’s leading writers, including Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Art Spiegelman, and Marguerite Duras.
Schiffrin would ultimately rebel at corporate ownership and form his own publishing house—The New Press—where he would go on to set a new standard for independent publishing.
A Political Education is a fascinating intellectual memoir that tells not only the story of a unique and important figure, but of the tulutuous political times that shaped him.