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Settling in America


In defence of a free society
Peter Mayer Publisher
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The most devastating aspect of an entire career, which I never thought was a dangerous one, but which in fact was a dangerous one.  And it's not the danger that makes me give you this answer that it was the most significant thing that happened to me in the course of some 60 years or whatever in publishing.  It's that the issues that it presented are the largest issues for a free society.

And I do say, as I also said in the Index on Censorship piece, which is the only thing I've ever written, that I think we won the battle but we lost the war.  In other words, the book exists.  Salman is alive.  Most people involved in this book are alive, too.  But today, publishers are very nervous about flexing their muscles.  I do know that, if you don't use your muscles, they turn to pap.

It's very difficult to disassociate the person – Salman or me – from the… egalitarian and libertarian and constitutional issues that surround it.  But, as we look at what is happening in Nigeria, or Iraq and Syria, or Egypt, or many, many countries where Islam is an issue, we have to be aware that there are forces, not necessarily arrayed against us, but arrayed against these ideals of freedom and the rights of the individual vis-à-vis the state.

And I don't know how it will come out in this battle of civilisations, but I know that, when the opportunity arose, we were not found wanting.  But today, many publishers will not publish either a cartoon or a novel.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Index on Censorship

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015