Man of the Book: Reading a Life of Salman Schocken
The Patron: A Life of Salman Schocken (1877-1959)
By Anthony David
Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company), 352 pages, $30.
By MINDY ALOFF
You may have never heard of the publisher Salman Schocken, an intellectual's businessman as well as a businessman's intellectual; even some leading New York editors of the past 30 years know little about him. But if you've ever read "In Mr. Lublin's Shop" by S.Y. Agnon � a writer whom Schocken essentially discovered, supported and promoted for the Nobel Prize in Literature � you've encountered a portrait of him. And if you ever bought a paperback edition of the works of Franz Kafka or Gershom Scholem in the United States in the 1950s or 1960s, you were directly affected by Schocken's taste � at least, by a small dimension of it.
Schocken Books, the last of the publishing companies devoted to what is now called Judaica, was the comparatively reduced American outpost of Schocken's publishing enterprise, which began magisterially with a rich and risk-taking array of German books in Weimar Berlin and continued with an extensive Hebrew publishing program in pre-World War II Palestine, where Schocken also owned the daily newspaper Ha'aretz and served as the head of administration for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His English-language publishing venture was founded last, in 1947, when Schocken was 70. Based in New York City (where it was supported primarily by Schocken's luck in real-estate investment), its most important holdings were the copyrights to the complete works of Kafka. In the large map of New York publishing, though, Schocken Books has been considered a comparatively minor house, a niche or specialty publisher, and Schocken himself has rarely inspired curiosity outside a small circle of other Jewish �migr�s.
This is likely to change with the appearance of Anthony David's monumental new biography, "The Patron: A Life of Salman Schocken 1877-1959." David's absorbing chronicle covers not only Schocken's extensive mercantile, publishing, bibliophilic, philanthropic and scholarly achievements; his cultural and intellectual ideals; his several exiles (from Germany to Palestine and then from Israel to the United States) and restless travels; his amazing literary instincts and steely business acumen, and his 50-year marriage in which he fathered five children, all of whom led reasonably good lives, but also his numerous extramarital affairs and his decision, at age 73, to leave his loveless union with his wife, Lilly, saying, "Now, I am a free man."
UPDATE: Here's another review of the same book in the Jerusalem Post. And here's the website for Schocken Books.