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Robert Silvers, 2006
Robert Benjamin Silvers (b. December 31, 1929) is an American editor who has served as editor of The New York Review of Books since 1963. Jason Epstein's assessment of Silvers as "The most brilliant editor of a magazine ever to have worked in this country" has been "shared by virtually all of us who have been published by Robert Silvers".

Silvers was co-editor of the Review with Barbara Epstein for over 40 years until her death in June 2006 and has been the sole editor of the magazine since then. He also serves on the editorial committee of La Rivista dei Libri, the Italian language edition of the Review. Silvers has also edited or co-edited several essay anthologies.

Life and career

Silvers was born in Mineola, New Yorkmarker and grew up in Farmingdalemarker and then Rockville Centre, New Yorkmarker, the son of James J. Silvers (1892-1986), a salesman and entrepreneur, and Rose Roden Silvers (1895-1979), a music critic and one of the first female radio hosts for RCA. He had one brother, Edwin D. Silvers (1927–2000), a civil engineer. He graduated from the University of Chicagomarker in 1947 and briefly attended Yale Law School.

Silvers worked as press secretary to then-Connecticutmarker Governor Chester Bowles in 1950. He lived in Paris from 1952 to 1958, where he served with the U.S. Army at SHAPEmarker Headquarters and attended the Sorbonnemarker and Paris Institute of Political Studiesmarker (best known as Sciences Po), receiving its certificate. He joined the editorial board of The Paris Review as managing editor in 1954 and became Paris editor in 1956. From 1959 to 1963, Silvers was associate editor of Harper's magazine, editor of the book Writing in America and translator of La Gangrene, which describes the brutal torture of seven Algerianmarker men by the Paris Security Police in 1958, shortly after Charles de Gaulle came to power.

For over forty years, beginning in 1963, Silvers and Barbara Epstein edited the New York Review of Books together. In 2006, Epstein died of cancer. Since then, Silvers has been the sole editor. Jonathan Miller said of Silvers' work habits: "He isn't just conscientious beyond the call of duty. He defines what duty is. You will often find him working until two in the morning in the office, with his little assistants from Harvard around him. He never stops. He's always meeting people, and talking...." Charles Rosen explained Silvers' success at finding reviewers:
"Bob [has not] sunk his personality into his profession; rather... he has found a means of transforming his profession into a fundamental way of being human. Extracting reviews from writers is not, in his case, a métier, or even a way of life, but a genuine form of self-expression, and he exercises it with dignity, tact and what sometimes feels like excessive sympathy. He has made writers feel that producing articles for him is not a business transaction or even process of communication, but simply a reciprocal act of friendship."

Silvers has described his motivation for continuing to edit the Review as follows: "I feel it's a fantastic opportunity – because of the freedom of it, because of the sense that there are marvelous, intensely interesting, important questions that you have a chance to try to deal with in an interesting way. That's an extraordinary opportunity in life. And you'd be crazy not to try and make the most of it." Asked in December 2007 about who might succeed him as editor, the 78-year-old Silvers demurred, "It's not a question that's posing itself".

Silvers has also edited or co-edited several essay anthologies, including Writing in America (1960); The First Anthology: Thirty Years of the New York Review (1993); Hidden Histories of Science (1995); India: A Mosaic (2000); Doing It: Five Performing Arts (2001); The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin (2001); Striking Terror (2002); The Company They Kept (2006); and The Consequences to Come: American Power After Bush (2008).

The New York Times described Silvers as "the voracious polymath, the obsessive perfectionist, the slightly unknowable bachelor-workaholic with the colossal Rolodexes and faintly British diction." Silvers has long lived with Grace, Countess of Dudley (widow of the 3rd Earl of Dudley), with whom he shares a passion for opera.

Honors and awards

The annual Robert B. Silvers lectures at the New York Public Librarymarker were established by Max Palevsky in 2002 and have been given by Joan Didion, J. M. Coetzee, Ian Buruma, Michael Kimmelman and Daniel Mendelsohn.

On November 15, 2006, Silvers, together with Epstein, received the National Book Foundation Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. With Epstein, he also received in 2006 the Award for "Distinguished Service to the Arts" from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Among other honors, Silvers has been a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center and the American Academy in Rome, as well as a trustee of the New York Public Library. He is also a Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur and a member of the French Ordre National du Mérite. In June 2007, Harvard Universitymarker awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Silvers is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and the Century Association.


  1. Richardson, John. "The Silvers Age", Vanity Fair, June 1, 2007
  2. Kolhatkar, Sheelah. Profile of Robert Silvers, The New York Observer, December 18, 2005
  3. Danner, Mark. "Editing the New York Review of Books: A Conversation with Robert B. Silvers", April 28, 1999 Interview at U.C. Berkeley
  4. "Robert Silvers on The Company They Kept", The Book Show, September 20, 2006, accessed April 20, 2009
  5. Church, Christopher. "Testament to Torture: The Gangrene Affair", Journal of Undergraduate Research, Vol. 8, Issue 3, January/February 2007
  6. McGrath, Charles. "Barbara Epstein, Editor and Literary Arbiter, Dies at 77", The New York Times, June 17, 2006, accessed April 20, 2009
  7. Brown, Andrew. "The Writer's Editor", The Guardian, January 24, 2004
  8. Neyfakh, Leon. What's New at The New York Review of Books?" The New York Observer, December 13, 2007
  9. Books published by the NY Review
  10. Scott, Janny. "Ideas: One Mind, But What A Mind; Defining the Passions Of the Liberal Elite For Over 2 Decades", The New York Times, November 1, 1997
  11. "Robert Silvers and... Barbara Epstein To Be Honored", Press release from The National Book Foundation (2006)
  12. Aaron, Daniel. "Honorary degrees awarded at Commencement’s Morning Exercises", Harvard Gazette online, June 7, 2007, accessed April 20, 2009


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