Sam Tanenhaus: New Editor of the NYT Book Review

Historians in the News

Memo to the staff of the New York Times from Bill Keller, executive editor (March 10, 2004):


I'm excited to report that we have a new editor for the Book Review. He is Sam Tanenhaus, a writer of distinction, a thinker of tremendous range and ambition, a passionate consumer of books, a kind of literary and intellectual fire-hose. He will begin April 1.

Sam's list of accomplishments should probably be headed by his virtuoso 1997 biography of Whittaker Chambers, a finalist for both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Richard Bernstein's review in our pages called it"the kind of writing that can keep you propped up against your pillow late at night." Sam is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and his writing on books and ideas has appeared in just about every significant venue in the English language (including our own magazine, Op-Ed page, Arts & Ideas page and, of course, Book Review). Taking charge of the Book Review means he will set aside his current work in progress, a biography of William F. Buckley Jr. Though he has made his reputation in non-fiction, Sam's M.A. from Yale was in English literature, and in our interviews we've found him to be an avid reader and incisive critic of serious fiction. To anyone who might have fallen for the notion that we were looking to dumb down this precious franchise: take that!

In nearly four months of searching, we considered most of the most impressive talents in the world of book reviewing. Many of them wrote incisive diagnostic essays on the Review and its promise. Jill and I interviewed widely -- and, I confess, we may have prolonged the process a little because those conversations were so stimulating. In the end, we kept coming back to Sam, his ideas, his passion for the Review, his energy.

This will be a kind of homecoming, and not just because of his double-digit byline count as a Times contributor. Until April 1999, Sam worked for Katy Roberts as an editor on the Op-Ed page. He gets The Times, which gives us great confidence that he will bring not only fresh creative energy but the ability to make things happen.

Chip McCrath [McGrath] , who has been eagerly awaiting his liberation to the writing life, bequeaths to Sam an illustrious record and a staff dedicated to the highest standards.They have been patient with us and generous with their thoughts about the Review. I think they, and all of us, are in for an exciting time.