Boxers loom large in the early pages of this magnificent anthology from the years in which the New Yorker became more profitable, better established and fatter than ever before – at one stage, it was necessary to limit the pages in a weekly issue to 248 – without compromising the standards set by its fabled first editor, Harold Ross. The book and the decade get off to a flying start with an account of Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ star player, working part-time in a hardware store in Queens, selling TV sets, fridges and washing machines to Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, and signing baseballs for admiring fans. ‘Business booming like wildfire since Jackie came,’ the shop’s manager told the New Yorker. A few pages later, A J Liebling, one of the magazine’s star writers and its resident gourmet, provides a vivid account of the heavy-weight fight at Madison Square Garden between the ‘cerebral’ Archie Moore and Rocky Marciano, ‘a kind, quiet, imperturbable fellow’. As they shook hands Liebling ‘could see Mr Moore’s eyebrows rising like storm clouds over the Sea of Azov’. After the fight was over, Liebling found himself sitting ‘between two young policemen who were talking about why Walt Disney has never attempted a screen version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis’, but ‘did not feel qualified to join in that one’.
Both these stories – like the evocation elsewhere in this book of a neglected corner of Staten Island by the finest of all New Yorker writers, Joseph Mitchell – remind us that, in the early days, the magazine was about New York and read by New Yorkers, and that it