Henry R. Luce Essay - Critical Essays

Robert E. Herzstein

Henry R. Luce

Robert Herzstein has produced a scholarly and compelling life of a towering figure in the development of twentieth century journalism and political affairs. There have been many histories, biographies, and memoirs dealing with Luce and his TIME empire, which included LIFE and FORTUNE magazines. Yet Herzstein has surpassed all of them in the scope and depth of his work, drawing not only on fresh archival sources but also on interviews with Luce’s family and business associates.

Herzstein is sympathetic to his subject, who has often been demonized as a malevolent Cold Warrior and American chauvinist. Luce deserves criticism, Herzstein amply demonstrates, but he also deserves credit for ambitiously tackling the profoundly difficult project of informing people in a mass democracy.

The biographer situates Luce in a position of power, beginning his biography with Luce’s visit to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s White House on the eve of World War II. Thus Herzstein gives a real feel for what it was like both for Luce as a press magnate and for supreme politicians such as Roosevelt to duel over the minds and hearts of the American people. For Luce, no less than Roosevelt, was a missionary—indeed the child of missionaries in China. He never lost his desire to convert people to what he saw as the truth.

Of course, Luce and his press organs could be tendentious—witness their hysteria over the bogus issue of “Who Lost China,” which fed the irrational excesses of what came to be known as McCarthyism. Nevertheless, Herzstein is right to conclude that Luce represented a force of good— even with all his flaws.