Academic journal article Journalism History

A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian

Academic journal article Journalism History

A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian

Article excerpt

Thompson, Edward K. A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995. 305 pp. $26.95.

More than a third of all American homes subscribed to Life in the late 1940s, with millions more reading the magazine as it was passed along each week. The soaring popularity of this mass-circulation picture magazine coincided with the ascension of Edward K. Thompson into the managing editorship, allowing him to shine professionally during the magazine's greatest period.

Thompson has been described as both brilliant and tough, but fellow Life editor Loudon Wainwright points out in his history of the magazine that Thompson did not make a stunning first impression. "There was a doughy quality about Thompson. He appeared slightly underdone. . . a poor souffle in the act of falling," says Wainwright, who adds, "You wouldn't guess him to be terribly quick, vigorous, fierce, combative. Yet he was all those things-and more."

Few journalists have had more exciting careers or been in positions of greater influence, so Thompson's professional autobiography is a welcome addition to the literature.

Readers looking for juicy gossip will be disappointed. However, those interested in a memoir with a behind-the-scenes look at thirty years of Life and Thompson's subsequent launch and ten-year editorship of Smithsonian are richly rewarded. This is the first book to include Smithsonian's story and the first book-length treatment of America's first picture magazine by such a high-ranking insider.

The opening chapters revolve around Thompson's small-town Midwestern roots, his first newspaper jobs and his appreciation for photojournalism gained while editing pictures at the Milwaukee Journal. …

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