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At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf
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At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  155 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
“I’ve got the name for our publishing operation. We just said we were going to publish a few books on the side at random. Let’s call it Random House.” So recounts Bennett Cerf in this wonderfully amusing memoir of the making of a great publishing house. An incomparable raconteur, possessed of an irrepressible wit and an abiding love of books and authors, Cerf brilliantly ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1977)
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Jason Pettus
[Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography ( I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.]

Recently at a party, someone favorably compared me to Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf; and that inspired me to read his autobiography, because not only did I know barely anything about him, but indeed about the entire formation of the modern American publishing industry, other than the vague realizati
Lee Anne
Dec 08, 2009 Lee Anne rated it really liked it
Bennett Cerf truly led a charmed life. After a brief stint on Wall Street, he fell into publishing and founded Random House, to this day (although it is now owned by Bertlesmann) the world's largest English language book publisher.

This book, more a collection of anecdotes than a memoir (it was compiled posthumously from interviews and notes), tells many amusing stories of life in the book business. Cerf is a great storyteller, and makes his life sound like a grand lark. Anyone who loves books ca
Aug 05, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I had the good fortune to meet Bennett Cerf's son Chris through the Columbia Publishing Course. Anyone going into book publishing should definitely give this book a read, as it provides an entertaining look at the early 20th century publishing world, among other things.

The book is made up of chapters of Bennett Cerf's (the co-founder of Random House) life, stories, and thought processes. A lot of it is gleaned from oral interviews with Cerf, so some of the stories t
Jade Kranz
Jun 26, 2012 Jade Kranz rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for those who work in book publishing, but any bibliophile will definitely appreciate it. Bennett Cerf was an outrageous character with a passion for creating good books, finesse for dealing with authors (Ayn Rand, Gertrude Stein, Eugene O'Neill, among many others), and an unbeatable sense of humor that will make you laugh out loud. His reminiscences delighted me so that I missed my stop on the subway while reading them and laughing out loud.
Aug 20, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was another one of those books which I have had for well over 30 years but never picked up to read. But now that I am low on books to pick from, I did . I had expected to read about the Bennett cerf form WHAT IS MY LINE tv show. I had forgot that he was the owner of Random house publishers.. The book was wonderful ,Cerf came into contact with all the authors of his day and his day was the time period of my favorite authors.
Jan 03, 2008 Steph rated it really liked it
I loved reading about the beginnings of the publishing industry. I was totally born in the wrong decade...
Déborah Muñoz
Apr 01, 2014 Déborah Muñoz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Es un libro muy interesante y cuenta de forma muy amena cómo se creó el gigante que es Random House. Me cayó genial Bennett Cerf, me han gustado sus anécdotas y su forma de ver las cosas.
Feb 01, 2013 Patty rated it it was amazing
I remember my father introducing me to Bennett Cerf while on What's My Line. I was pretty small and it was just a name and game I couldn't follow. Then a few years ago What's My Line started being shown on late night television. After taping it for several years I think I've seen all the existing episodes and absolutely love the shows with Dorothy Killgallen, Arlene Francis and Bennet Cerf. Guests panelists are fun but it was the interaction of the three main panel members and John Daly as the ...more
Keith W
Apr 29, 2016 Keith W rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and often funny account of how Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer established and built up Random House, the publishing giant. The book is based on interviews with Cerf that were conducted as part of an oral history project at Columbia University. I particularly enjoyed the stories from the beginning, when Cerf and Klopfer were trying to find their way with the company and the opportunity came along for them to purchase the Modern Library, later a Random House staple, from Horace ...more
Growing up with books from an early age I still remember the love I had for the books themselves. Thus the encounter with "The Modern Library" editions from Random House was love at first sight. I read my first Faulkner and Dostoevsky in these editions. And I still have a small collection among my personal library today. All this as introduction to why I picked up and devoured this wonderful memoir of the life of a literary publisher. It is a fascinating collection of reminiscences of a life ...more
Mary Narkiewicz
Feb 05, 2016 Mary Narkiewicz rated it liked it
Since I've started to watch "What's My Line" reruns , I've developed a fascination with Bennett Cerf. What a charming man he was. And his autobiographical story is just as charming and down to earth. He says "I'm just lucky".. and so he was.. No wonder he had that constant friendly smile on his face.

I love reading his anecdotes about James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Theodore Dreiser, Ayn Rand.. He knew EVERYone!

I ordered one of his other books from Amazon.. I have my eye on two
Sep 30, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Put together by wife and editor after Cerf's 1971 death, using oral interviews, dairies, notes, etc. VERY informative and entertaining look into the life of a great publisher, businessman, and raconteur. Touches on many great characters of the 20th century. Worth every star. Of course, I AM a big fan of American life and letters of the 1920s through 1950s, so am perhaps predisposed to this book. Would reread.
Courtney McCarroll
Aug 04, 2016 Courtney McCarroll rated it it was ok
I don't doubt that Bennett Cerf was an interesting and charming enough man to establish the world's biggest publishing house, but the entire book ("Reminiscences") is filled with things like: "Phyllis and I love Harold's son Tom. We've watched him grow up. He's one of my favorite people, Tom." That's the only mention of Tom (could be anyone) and since the vast majority of the book is just Cerf recalling memories without any meat or substance or introspection, this one didn't work for me.
Jul 27, 2011 Marybeth rated it really liked it
Sometimes the past grabs you when you browse the biography shelf. I knew about Cerf from early TV, What's My Line, which I certainly would never have watched had I had several hundred other channels. But it passed the time between a childhood mainlining books. And what a verbal motormouth this man is. That just means his revelations of his life in the publishing world can have a riveting quality, but certainly only in spurts.
Oct 24, 2007 Tosh rated it liked it
Since I am a publisher, I am obsessed with reading books about publishers and their presses. And Random House is the biggie of them all. One thing for sure, publishing is a very romantic business. Whatever you are a small press or a huge one like Random. The old School (and Cerf is a member of that school) were visionaries and had great passion in their work. I hope to be among that little club!
Jan 18, 2014 María rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muy entretenido. Un pillo, Cerf, de esos emprendedores livianitos de sangre que además son cultos y tienen algún talento. Una especie inexistente en el extremo austral. Por lo demás es igual que todas las biografías de editores estadounidenses, una historia de éxito, con sus muy interesantes cotilleos sobre la mezquindad de algunos autores y su complicada relación con el dinero.
Wayne Dunshee
Dec 24, 2012 Wayne Dunshee rated it it was amazing
A very well put together biography of Bennett Cerf from notes and writings of Bennett Cerf himself. It describes himself, his author friends and clients, the publishing business and the formation of Random House from the 1920s to 1970. Would consider it a must read for those in the publishing business.
Vanessa Braganza
Jul 23, 2014 Vanessa Braganza rated it it was amazing
This is one of very few books of which I never wanted to reach the end, and it broke my heart when I did. Bennett was many things, including a vivacious spirit, a terrible punster, a bon vivant, and a man with impeccable taste in literature - these memoirs of the famous founder of Random House publishing were sheer heaven!
Sep 14, 2007 Leah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: publishing nerds
An amazing read for anyone in/fascinated by publishing. Pompous and self-satisfied hardly begins to describe Bennett Cerf, but if you founded one of the most prestigious and reputable publishing houses in America, wouldn't you be?
Michael Carrier
Aug 17, 2016 Michael Carrier rated it it was amazing

Lost data in move to GR from Shelf.

Story of Cerf and Random House. Added information to a guy I just saw on TV on Sunday nights.
Aug 26, 2012 Ken rated it it was amazing

A delightful look at the book business in the 20th century by a master of quality and friendly publishing.
Published after his death, this memoir collects various interviews Cerf did with the Columbia school of journalism about publishing and his role in founding Random House.
The Reading
The Reading rated it really liked it
Nov 12, 2015
Noemi Proietti
Mar 06, 2014 Noemi Proietti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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“When people are decent, things work out for everybody,” my father instructs us. “That’s been my theory all through life. If you’re making money, let the other fellow make it, too.… If you can work a thing out so that everybody profits, that’s the ideal business.” 1 likes
“Everybody was being decent, and when people are decent, thing work out for everybody. That has been my theory all through life. If you’re making money, let the other fellow make it too. If somebody’s getting hurt, it’s bad, but if you can work a thing out so that everybody profits that’s the ideal business.” 1 likes
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