In the United States, weather moves from west to east, while culture generally travels from east to west. But in the case of The New Yorker, culture moved with the weather. The New Yorker was created by a Westerner - Harold Ross, a Coloradan from Aspen, when Aspen was a mining town in the late 19th century. His family was driven out of town by the silver bust of 1893, and thereafter Ross grew up in Salt Lake City, Denver, and San Francisco. The Aspen house was still there in 1991, a $35,000 teardown on a $675,000 lot, according to Thomas Kunkel, author of Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker. Kunkel's book arrives just as The New Yorker that Ross established by grit, genius and integrity is threatened by stock promotion stories on Seagrams and photos of the O.J. Simpson set. There are still glints in today's New Yorker of the magazine Ross and his first wife, Jane Grant, began publishing on Feb. 17, 1925. But to understand what the magazine once was, read Kunkel. Bylines were at the ends of articles because the point was the writing and content, not big-name authors. Tables of contents were sketchy because Ross wanted readers to discover each issue for themselves. The writing was free of four-letter words and sexual innuendoes - he rejected even such titles as "The lay of the land' - because Ross never shed the standards his schoolteacher mother and miner father had given him. And publisher Raoul Fleisch-mann was barred from the editorial part of the building to prevent advertising from influencing content. Ross was unreasonable, perhaps an extremist. As a result, The New Yorker for decades was the best magazine in the country: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, for example, first ran in the magazine, as did John Hersey's Hiroshima. The 497-page book is $25 in hardback from Random House, New York.
* Ed Marston
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