Happy Book Birthday to Look!

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Look: How a Highly Influential Magazine Helped Define Mid-Twentieth-Century America (Potomac Books, 2021) by Andrew L. Yarrow.

About the Book:

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.

A Word from the Author:

Since my book, Look: How a Highly Influential Magazine Helped Define Mid-Twentieth-Century America, was published a year ago, I have only become more admiring of and engaged with this magazine that was read by tens of millions of Americans at the peak of its 35-year-publishing run. During my many book talks, including one organized by a Look Facebook group that found me, I say that I wish I could write so much more about Look.

Instead of writing, I have embarked on a documentary film about this onetime behemoth of American media that featured outstanding photos and creative, often hard-hitting stories about civil rights, the Cold War, 1960s counterculture, technology, politics, personal relations, and so much more. Frequently conflated and confused with Life, Look was an iconoclastic, even radical publication that gave its writers and photographers free rein, whereas its archrival was a pillar of the Establishment whose prose was edited into a single voice. I tell people that Look also helped foster optimism and a national conversation around a common set of facts, ideas, and ideals, which is so sorely lacking today, as President Obama has said.

I assembled a loose team of filmmakers, cameramen, and advisers, and this fall began filming interviews with now-elderly journalists and others associated with Look. Tony Vaccaro, a legendary photographer who turns 100 this month, told me of accompanying Allied troops at D-Day and riding a camel with the young Shah of Iran. Pat Carbine, Look’s last executive editor and who every other Look staffer praises to the hilt, recalled when JFK dabbed sunscreen on her face. Betty Rollin, whose stories helped advance feminism, described her strange week with John and Yoko. Will Hopkins, Look’s last art director, pointed to James Karales’ iconic photo of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march hanging on the wall of his Minneapolis home. John Poppy, who coined the term “generation gap,” recalled the early days of the Esalen retreat center in Big Sur. Four women who began their careers at the magazine in the mid-1960s were reunited for an interview in a Greenwich Village apartment. And Bill Hedgepeth recounted bringing San Francisco’s 1967 “Summer of Love” to Look’s enormous readership.

The filmed interviews continue, as does research at the archives of publisher Mike Cowles in Des Moines, the four-million-image Look photo archives at the Library of Congress, and the Museum of the City of New York (which holds a quarter million Look images). So many other tasks lie ahead, including continued fundraising, but it’s incredibly exciting to preserve the stories of these great journalists and try to bring greater awareness of a publication that offers a remarkable lens on the mid-twentieth century.

For more information about the film and how to support its production, please see: https://andrewlyarrow.com/the-life-of-look-the-film and https://www.docsinprogress.org/3147.


“Finally, there is an in-depth history of Look, the mid-twentieth century (1937–1971) magazine that is rarely remembered as Life’s chief competitor. Written by Andrew Yarrow, a historian and former New York Times journalist, this book flows with an accessible style that will appeal to a general audience interested in the middle decades of the twentieth century.” – American Journalism

Look has now been downloaded from magazine heaven by Andrew Yarrow, a reporter turned academic and the author of five other books. His lavishly illustrated Look: How a Highly Influential Magazine Helped Define Mid-Twentieth-Century America aims not only to rescue the glossy from obscurity but to burnish its reputation for courageous journalism.” – The Wall Street Journal

Look, the book, lauds the talented photojournalists and reporters who graced the magazine’s pages. Politicians, historians and best-selling authors contributed thought-provoking articles. Cutting-edge issues such as civil rights and emerging trends like feminism were presented in a positive light to a wide audience.” – The Beacon Newspaper

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