Speaking Freely: My Life in Publishing and Human Rights

Robert L Bernstein (Author) Toni Morrison (Foreword by)


What do Dr. Seuss, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Andrei Sakharov, and James Michener have in common? They were all published by Bob Bernstein during his twenty-five-year run as president of Random House, before he brought the dissidents Liu Binyan, Jacobo Timerman, Natan Sharansky, and Václav Havel to worldwide attention in his role as the father of modern human rights.

Starting as an office boy at Simon & Schuster in 1946, Bernstein moved to Random House in 1956 and succeeded Bennett Cerf as president ten years later. The rest is publishing and human rights history.

In a charming and self-effacing work, Bernstein reflects for the first time on his fairy tale publishing career, hobnobbing with Truman Capote and E.L. Doctorow; conspiring with Kay Thompson on the Eloise series; attending a rally for Random House author George McGovern with film star Claudette Colbert; and working with publishing luminaries including Dick Simon, Alfred Knopf, Robert Gottlieb, André Schiffrin, Peter Osnos, Susan Peterson, and Jason Epstein as Bernstein grew Random House from a $40 million to an $800 million-plus "money making juggernaut," as Thomas Maier called it in his biography of Random House owner Si Newhouse. In a book sure to be savored by anyone who has worked in the publishing industry, fought for human rights, or wondered how Theodor Geisel became Dr. Seuss, Speaking Freely beautifully captures a bygone era in the book industry and the first crucial years of a worldwide movement to protect free speech and challenge tyranny around the globe.

Product Details

$27.95  $25.71
New Press
Publish Date
May 10, 2016
6.1 X 1.3 X 9.4 inches | 1.5 pounds

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About the Author

Robert L. Bernstein served as the president of Random House for twenty-five years. After being sent to Moscow as part of a delegation of American publishers in 1973, he established the organization that became Human Rights Watch. He was the author of Speaking Freely: My Life in Publishing and Human Rights (The New Press).


Praise for Speaking Freely
"Mr. Bernstein, now 93 years old, tells his stories with great detail and good humor, finding ways to laugh at life while communicating his deep love for the friends he made along the way."
--Wall Street Journal

"Bernstein's story demonstrates the vital role played by the publishing industry in the global fight for human rights."
--Publishers Weekly

"[A] fascinating history of publishing in the 20th century and traces the beginnings of the human rights movement...A well-written book for lovers of book publishing and supporters of human rights."
--Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Robert L. Bernstein:
"Our Kaiser and pope."
--Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

"Among the most powerful men in the book industry."
--The New York Times

"A clear-sighted and even heroic founder of the human rights movement."
--The New Republic

"Robert Bernstein and his friends have constructed an idea, the idea of the human being in the fullness of his rights and protections. In every part of the world, their actions are ardently anticipated by those who suffer most. No one can imagine a more universal philosophy, a more explosive dynamic."
--Jacobo Timerman

"When he was at the height of his corporate influence and visibility, Bob never flagged in seizing the moment to speak out and act...he showed how success in commerce and the corporate world could be reconciled with the principled exercises of citizenship."
--Leon Botstein

"Bob Bernstein has engaged life; evil does not awe or paralyze him; civic life is enhanced by his presence in it."
--Toni Morrison

"Bob Bernstein--like Mandela, Dr. King, Aung Sun Suu Kyi--is unique. He is a happy warrior, a visionary leader, and a political genius. There is no one else like him."
--Harold Koh, former Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, U.S. State Department

"Robert Bernstein's long publishing career, particularly his quarter century as chief executive of Random House, was especially distinctive. From the incomparable output of Doctor Seuss to countless literary and non-fiction authors of stature and impact, Bob provided the resources and support to enable their work. He personally sought out books of political dissent from around the globe and sponsored their publication with exceptional passion. Bob's commitment to human rights made a historic contribution to the movement and shaped his unique legacy."
--Peter Osnos