On Publishing: A Professional Memoir
Leventhal, Lionel. On Publishing: A Professional Memoir London : Greenhill Books: 2002. 209 pages. ISBN# 1853675173. £17.50 or $29.95. Hardcover.
I collect books. I rarely buy a book without examining it first. I want to know about the author and about his credentials. Is he a recognized expert in the field or is he a gifted amateur about to break out on the field? I also look at the book to see how it is put together. Does it have illustrations and maps? Are they relevant? Are they in the appropriate place? Does the author cite his sources? Is there a bibliography? Is there an accurate index? I never think about the publishing side of the business. Let’s face it. Who really cares how the book came to be published? The fact that the book is available is all I want to know. A recent gift of Lionel Leventhal’s On Publishing, however, changed my attitude about book publishing.
For those who do not know it, Lionel Leventhal is the owner of Greenhill Books, the foremost publisher of Napoleonic books in English. On Publishing is his memoir. In it, he provides an insider’s view of the world of military book publishing. The book is anecdotal and covers a variety of topics, not all in chronological order. He begins with how he got into the book-selling business in the early 1950s and takes the reader through forty years of publishing. He tells of his early days in the book business, when he made the princely sum of £3.20 per week! And how he became an independent publisher, first running the business out of his bedroom in his parents' house. As I read on, I was surprised to find that he is somehow connected to a very healthy portion of my Napoleonic library. In addition to Greenhill Books, at one time he also owned Arms and Armour Press and Ken Trotman! Although most people who study the period, know of the numerous Napoleonic titles that Greenhill Books have published in the past 17 years (35 in the Napoleonic Library alone), these and others that he has published include:
In On Publishing, Mr. Leventhal covers a wide range of topics. One chapter is devoted to Ken Trotman Ltd, considered by many to be the dealer in out-of-print Napoleonic books. There actually was a Ken Trotman, who specialized in antique arms and armor. Mr. Leventhal bought the business from his friend in the mid-1970s and expanded it into Napoleonic titles. His description of the Ken Trotman “bookstore” (to use the term loosely) in Hampstead, brought back vivid memories of my own visit to the store in the early 1980s!
Much of the memoirs cover his relationship with a variety of authors from working with Chaim Herzog, the late Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, to Ian Hogg, one of only fourteen Master Gunners in the British Army. Since Greenhill Books reprints many long out-of-print books, he also discusses the great steps he takes to secure the rights to these books. . . or as he puts it “working with dead authors!”
Until I read On Publishing, I had not realized that Mr. Leventhal had worked so closely with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. There are two chapters on his efforts to publish works about the weapons in the Hermitage Museum and also on the Soviet Military. The problems he had with the Soviet bureaucrats in the 1970s contrast sharply with the reception he received in the 1990s from the new Russia. The memoir also tells of his involvement with the Frankfurt Book Fair in the 1950s and 1960s and the various characters he met there. Mr. Leventhal was also the founder of the London Book Fair and provides an insider view of how and why it was organized and how it evolved into its current form.
On Publishing is an entertaining and informative read that brings to the life the behind the scenes efforts of the publishing world. The world of Napoleonic publishing is relatively small, so this is a must read for those who collect books on the period. Because of it, I now have a greater appreciation of what it took to get a book into its final form!
Reviewed by Robert Burnham, FINS
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2002
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