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, JeanPaul Sartre, and Antoine de SaintExupéry. 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 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 émigré community of wartime New York (a community that included Hannah Arendt and Helen and Kurt Wolff), he would go on to develop an insatiable appetite for literature and politics: heading a student group 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 to head the very imprint cofounded by his father— Pantheon.
There, he would discover and publish some of the world’s leading writers, including Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Art Spiegelman, Studs Terkel, and Marguerite Duras. But in a move that would make headlines, Schiffrin would ultimately rebel at corporate ownership and form his own publishing house, where he would set a new standard for independent publishing.