The Making of Middlebrow Culture

By Joan Shelley Rubin

438 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4354-3
    Published: March 1992
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6426-5
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6660-8
    Published: November 2000

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The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. Joan Rubin here provides the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, the rise of American middlebrow culture, and the values encompassed by it.

Rubin centers her discussion on five important expressions of the middlebrow: the founding of the Book-of-the-Month Club; the beginnings of "great books" programs; the creation of the New York Herald Tribune's book-review section; the popularity of such works as Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and the emergence of literary radio programs. She also investigates the lives and expectations of the individuals who shaped these middlebrow institutions--such figures as Stuart Pratt Sherman, Irita Van Doren, Henry Seidel Canby, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, John Erskine, William Lyon Phelps, Alexander Woollcott, and Clifton Fadiman.

Moreover, as she pursues the significance of these cultural intermediaries who connected elites and the masses by interpreting ideas to the public, Rubin forces a reconsideration of the boundary between high culture and popular sensibility.

About the Author

Joan Shelley Rubin, professor of history at the University of Rochester, is author of Constance Rourke and American Culture.
For more information about Joan Shelley Rubin, visit the Author Page.


"Not only has Ms. Rubin found a way to make [the middlebrow critics] shine again, but she also makes us understand why they mattered in the first place. And by understanding that we can see more clearly why American book culture, for better and for worse, is what it is today."--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

"A significant book. [Rubin] has asked pertinent questions and revealed some of the important outlines of what should become a major exploration of an element of twentieth-century culture that has not so much been ignored as dismissed as white noise that blurs the more exciting rhythms and melodies of mass and elite culture."--James Gilbert, Reviews in American History

"[An] absorbing study."--New York Times Book Review

"[An] intelligent and readable book."--Daniel Aaron, New Republic

"A welcome scholarly reappraisal of a neglected chapter in America's impulse toward education and self-improvement, and most interesting in the perspective of today's debates on curriculum and 'great books.'"--Kirkus Reviews

"[An] absorbing study."--New York Times Book Review