Letters to the Editor

Response to “Generation Past”

Walter D. Kamphoefner, February 2017

To the editor:

Thank you for David Spear’s fascinating article on Landmark Books (“Generation Past,” October 2016). Spear identified one of the two reasons I became a professional historian—the other being Grosset & Dunlap’s competitor Signature Books and its follow-up We Were There series, of which I must have read about 25 volumes.

I always had the impression that the Landmark series was of slightly higher quality, and reading of Bennett Cerf’s editorial policy, I now understand why. There were exceptions: the Signature biography of George Washington Carver left such an impression on me that 50 years later I hunted up a used copy for my son and discovered to my surprise that it had been authored by Arna Bontemps, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, who by that time was head librarian at Fisk University. Sixty years later I can still feel the almost physical pain I experienced when Carver, after a color-­blind admission to a Kansas college, was turned away because of his race. Whatever social conscience I have can be credited in no small measure to that book.

Walter D. Kamphoefner
Texas A&M University


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