How a Highly Influential Magazine Helped Define Mid-Twentieth-Century America

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Pub Date 01 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 01 Nov 2021

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Andrew L. Yarrow tells the story of Look magazine, one of the greatest mass-circulation publications in American history, and the very different United States in which it existed. The all-but-forgotten magazine had an extraordinary influence on mid-twentieth-century America, not only by telling powerful, thoughtful stories and printing outstanding photographs but also by helping to create a national conversation around a common set of ideas and ideals. Yarrow describes how the magazine covered the United States and the world, telling stories of people and trends, injustices and triumphs, and included essays by prominent Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Margaret Mead. It did not shy away from exposing the country’s problems, but it always believed that those problems could be solved.

Look, which was published from 1937 to 1971 and had about 35 million readers at its peak, was an astute observer with a distinctive take on one of the greatest eras in U.S. history—from winning World War II and building immense, increasingly inclusive prosperity to celebrating grand achievements and advancing the rights of Black and female citizens. Because the magazine shaped Americans’ beliefs while guiding the country through a period of profound social and cultural change, this is also a story about how a long-gone form of journalism helped make America better and assured readers it could be better still.

Andrew L. Yarrow tells the story of Look magazine, one of the greatest mass-circulation publications in American history, and the very different United States in which it existed. The...

Advance Praise

“This is a fascinating slice of American history: the story of Look, a magazine that ‘informed people rather than riling them up or scaring them.’ Andrew Yarrow writes persuasively and vividly about something precious the world is in danger of losing—journalism grounded in honesty and goodwill.”—Robert Guest, foreign editor of the Economist

“In this quietly amazing biography, Andrew Yarrow brings to life a major mid-twentieth-century magazine, now forgotten or dismissed as ‘middlebrow,’ and reveals it as path-breaking, radical, and surprisingly influential. He shows Look connecting tens of millions of readers who could assume, even when they disagreed, that they were reflecting on and discussing the same facts and opinions. A thoughtful, lively story about a pivotal thirty-four years in America.”—John Poppy, writer for Look, 1960–70

Look magazine was one of the most influential mass-circulation magazines in post–World War II America, combining cutting-edge social and political stories and gripping photography. In this ground-breaking new work, historian and journalist Andrew Yarrow recovers the contribution of this sometimes overlooked publication to examine the critical role Look played in creating an informed citizenry and generating civilized public debate.”—Rosemarie Zagarri, University Professor and a professor of history at George Mason University

“This is a fascinating slice of American history: the story of Look, a magazine that ‘informed people rather than riling them up or scaring them.’ Andrew Yarrow writes persuasively and vividly about...

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ISBN 9781612349442
PRICE $39.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

I still collect all the editions of Look magazine. It was forward thinking stylish in the photography was beautiful. This book is very informative about what really worked about the magazine and what was nostalgic about it. I definitely recommend this.

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Look Magazine was so well written great articles fantastic photographs,I really enjoyed reading about this magazine it’s place in American history truly an American snapshot of a time a place.I found this a really informative interesting look back at this magazine.Will be recommending.#netgalley #loo

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Whenever I stop at a flea market or antique mall, I soon find myself losing track of time in the old magazines, looking at vintage ads, seeing what people were concerned about, what they were wearing, how the magazines were designed, and so on. I faintly remember the last years of Look Magazine, and its rival, Life Magazine. They were among the "general interest" magazines of mid-century America, containing news, entertainment, humor, and lots of colorful photographs.

Journalist Andrew Yarrow has done a biography of the magazine, telling how it came about in 1937 and lasted until 1971, the whole time under the same founder and publisher, Mike Cowles. Yarrow describes the types of articles and features the magazine contained, and there are many photographs of covers and photographs. I read the book on my laptop, and I recommend to anyone who is thinking of reading the book to get the hardcover, because I am sure that the photo spreads will be much more rewarding in that format rather than digitally.

In addition to the business side of the magazine and its content, Yarrow scatters some fun gossip throughout, including the story of how Cowles's wife alienated everyone at the magazine, started her own magazine, at great expense, and watched it flame out after only thirteen issues.

Yarrow ends the book by observing that Look Magazine was a part of an America that was less divided than it is today, a country that had differences but at least agreed on some basics. I found this rather wistful, because it seemed to hinge on the curators of these basics all being of the same group, that is, white men with college degrees: Cowles, all the presidents, most of the Congress, the men reading and editing the TV news, the newspapers, radio, and magazines. If we all seemed to agree on what was important, it was because people outside that group were not calling the shots and silently (and later not so silently) watching from the sidelines.

Regardless of Yarrow's hope for a national conversation that is evidently never going to happen, Look: How a Highly Influential Magazine Helped Define Mid-Twentieth-Century America is a fun, fascinating, and colorful look at a moment in American history that paradoxically, used to be, and never was.

Thanks to NetGalley and Potomac Books for a digital review copy.

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I thoroughly enjoyed diving into this incredible and incredibly fascinating snippet of time. Look by Andrew L. Yarrow is like falling backwards into the past, from the carefully curated photographs to the stories scattered throughout the pages, I absolutely loved it.

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This was a fantastic detailed book about one of the iconic magazines. I enjoyed the descriptions and learning so much about behind the scenes. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys history, magazines and culture.

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This is an important, fascinating, informative book about Look magazine, which from the New Deal to Nixon (1937 to 1971), told the story of America, as seen through the pages of Look magazine, one of the last great mass circulation magazines in the U.S. Lots of interesting tidbits.

Growing up in the 1960's, our family subscribed to Life magazine and I had very little familiarity with Look magazine. But after reading this outstanding book, I'd love to track down some copies of the magazine and see Look for myself, especially as to how it used photography.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in mid-20th century American history. I don't think you'd be disappointed.

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Look to me has always had third (or fourth?) billing in iconic 20th Century US magazines, behind Time, Life, and the Saturday Evening Post (and maybe Sports Illustrated?). But this book makes the case for Look's importance. The best part were the photos - so many iconic and interesting images I didn't always know were from Look. The history sometimes was a slog, but it ended up being quite interesting as well.

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