'An Optimist's Eye and a Skeptic's Squint': Remembering Robert Manning

By Scott Stossel

Remembering the longtime Atlantic editor, who guided the magazine through a critical era of war, protest, and cultural change.

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A young Robert Manning, second from left in the first row, listens to historian Arthur Schlesinger.

The Atlantic was saddened by the passing of editor emeritus Robert Manning, who died over the weekend at the age of 92. After a distinguished career at the Associated Press, Time, the New York Herald Tribune, and the U.S. State Department, Manning joined The Atlantic as its executive editor in 1964, taking over as its tenth editor-in-chief in 1966, when his predecessor Edward Weeks retired.

Presiding over the magazine from 1966 until 1980, Manning helped usher The Atlantic into the modern era. Circulation nearly doubled under his stewardship, as he intensified the magazine's engagement with the news and public affairs, while preserving a focus on literary and cultural matters. Under Manning, the magazine published some of the nation's best established intellectual figures and literary giants (Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Richard Yates, John Updike, Jose Luis Borges, Robert Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Dr. James Watson, Walter Lippmann, among many others), while launching or advancing the careers of such writers as James Fallows, Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Drew, Tracy Kidder, Ward Just, James Alan McPherson, L.E. Sissman, Dan Wakefield, and Ann Beattie.

C. Michael Curtis, who was a junior editor at The Atlantic when Manning arrived and who has been with the magazine for more than fifty years, says, "Robert Manning changed the direction of the magazine, bringing to it an involved awareness of public affairs, an astonishing roster of new -- though now much honored -- writers, and a feisty determination to make The Atlantic the best magazine of its kind." James Fallows, whom Manning hired in 1979, recalled in a recent blog post that Manning was "a very graceful writer and a talented editor, a proud and witty man, a gregarious and devoted and big-hearted friend":

During his nearly 15 years as The Atlantic's editor, he brought the magazine into the center of covering the big events of that time, notably the Vietnam war, civil rights progress and tumult, the economic transformations of the oil-shock and stagflation era, the cultural rending and refashioning of American society, the Watergate-induced changes in D.C. politics, and much else. He also led a very strong Atlantic team -- including Michael Janeway, Richard Todd, Louise Desaulniers, C. Michael Curtis, and others.

In Manning's first issue as editor, April 1966, he announced that he aimed to "survey the world with an optimist's eye and a skeptic's squint, trying to abjure trifles, to look beyond the awkward incidents of the hour, and to illuminate the long sweep of events -- and find excitement in doing so." He believed, as he wrote in his memoir, that "The Atlantic should be a place of many and differing voices" -- to be of no party or clique, as the magazine's 19th century founders had it, and he observed that to produce "ambitious journalism on a monthly schedule called, first, for accurate anticipation of events and trends and, second, the knack of marrying the right writer to the right idea the right time."

Even in the age of Internet journalism, when we produce more content for TheAtlantic.com every day than we did for a single issue of the magazine in the 1960s, that remains an apt description of our challenge today.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/an-optimists-eye-and-a-skeptics-squint-remembering-robert-manning/263251/