City Room

During the second half of the twentieth century, The New York Times was arguably the best newspaper on the planet. Arthur Gelb rose from night copy boy to managing editor of the newspaper between 1944 and his retirement in 1990, and he has traced his career in this lively, anecdote-laden memoir of the people he knew and the stories he covered. Anyone interested in how news is made and how newspapers work will find City Room a delightful guide.

Gelb knew almost everyone who mattered in New York, and the names of the great and near great fill his pages. He sheds important light on the role of his friend A.M. Rosenthal in reshaping The New York Times in the 1960’s and 1970’s as managing editor. At the same time, Gelb does justice to the rich cultural life of New York City that he followed with such attention in the newspaper. The foibles of the famous are outlined in amusing detail, and Gelb has a sharp eye for the revealing story and the eccentric personality. He skewers deftly many of the pompous and self-satisfied in politics and the arts. In recent years, The New York Times has seen a decline in its prestige and dominance of the news-gathering business. That such trends developed after Arthur Gelb left his post will not be surprising to readers of this important and illuminating account of a great era in the history of American journalism. It joins Richard F. Shepard’s, The Paper’s Papers (1996) as an indispensable narrative for those seeking to understand the place that The New York Times has filled in the national life.