The Publisher. Paul Block: A Life of Friendship, Power and Politics

Article excerpt

The Publisher. Paul Block: A Life of Friendship, Power and Politics. Frank Brady. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.552 pp. $49 hbk. $29.50 pbk.

Paul Block was a national advertising representative, newspaper owner, and philanthropist. During his life he counted New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, publisher William Randolph Hearst, singer Irving Berlin, and entertainer Florenz Zeigfeld as his close friends.

Brady's work on Block is storytelling at its best. Devoid of a primary archive on Paul Block, Brady used numerous sources to chronicle the business, political, social, financial, philanthropy, family, and personal life of Paul Block. Newspaper stories, articles from trade journals, and letters from many varied archives serve as the sources for the book.

The strength of the book is it appears to be an exhaustive account of Block's life. However, this is also a weakness of the book. Because Block was a multi-faceted individual, the author compartmentalizes Block's life. It is difficult to follow a chronology of events because the book is organized by Block's advertising business, newspaper business, political life, and social life. It is difficult at times to see how these areas intersect.

Brady is careful to examine Block's life in context of the larger economic, social, and political events of the day. The book reads as much as a history of the advertising industry and the newspaper business as it does a biography of Block. The author provides the larger historical context on issues and social movements.

Block appears more of a combination of advertising salesman, publicist, and entertainment seeker than as an editor or publisher. He admonishes his staff to "look for stories of entertainment." In Memphis he runs a contest to audition locals to appear in a film. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he adds four pages of color comics asa major addition to boost circulation.

Block establishes a national advertising representative business for newspapers in New York in the early 1900s. His client list was impressive, and he did not escape notice of the trade journal Editor & Publisher. He amasses a small fortune that allowed him to buy a suite in the Waldorf Towers, a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and a Pullman train car. …