In chapters of sparkling prose and sympathetic insight, Ronald traces Nast’s life from his birth in New York in 1873 (and his life-long reaction against the wastrel ways of his profligate father) to his early start in the magazine world ... Ronald’s colorful prose style perfectly matches the heyday of the early 20th-century magazine boom. Readers are brought inside ... It’s this assured ability to capture the dissonant and at times contradictory aspects of Nast’s nature that sets Ronald’s book apart and makes it such fascinating reading ... In these pages, the staid, reserved mastermind behind Vogue and Vanity Fair comes across as an unlikely Pied Piper figure, giving the smart set a monthly blueprint for their ambitions.
There are a lot of biographies of writers and editors, who leave a paper trail of primary material and tend to have strong supporting roles in the memoirs of other writers and editors. A business figure such as Nast provides more of a challenge. He was temperamentally self-effacing, and few of the tens of thousands of moves and decisions he made in his career are knowable. In telling his story, Ms. Ronald relies heavily on Edna Chase’s excellent memoir, Always in Vogue, and Caroline Seebohm ’s solid 1982 Nast biography, The Man Who Was Vogue. She doesn’t add a great deal to these works, with the exception of well-chosen quotations from a trove of letters Nast wrote late in his life to his (much younger) second wife, which are touching and revealing about, for example, the sting he felt from business setbacks ... The book isn’t helped by Ms. Ronald’s breezy writing. Breeziness is arguably a legitimate stylistic choice for a book about slick magazines. But the abundance of clichés in Condé Nast isn’t defensible ... Some sentences are case studies in what can happen when metaphors collide.
Prolific biographer Ronald, whose previous profiles have included Nazi collaborator Florence Gould and Third Reich art thief Hildebrand Gurlitt, does an exceptional job of integrating the story of Nast’s personal fortunes and misfortunes with the lives of those he sought to refine and educate.
... fizzy ... Ronald’s Nast is polished, tasteful, unpretentious, polite, kind, and rather dull: he threw fabulous parties in a Manhattan penthouse flowing with bootleg champagne, but often spent them in his library playing bridge. Fortunately, Ronald regularly leaves the bland Nast to follow livelier figures ... Ronald writes in a vivid, sparkling, amused style and revels in the era’s repartee, clothes and gossip. Her portrait of Nast doesn’t leave a strong impression, but her evocation of the vibrant scene around him will keep readers entertained.
... thoroughly researched ... Throughout, Ronald’s tone is deeply admiring as she chronicles Nast’s work ethic, appearance, devotion to his staff members, and his stellar parties ... Readers interested in business history will enjoy the strategies and principles dear to Nast and the accounts of his competition with William Randolph Hearst ... A highly flattering biography of an important figure in American publishing.