History with Feeling

The case of Macmillan New York

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The Macmillan Company New York, led by the Bretts, was a major player in American life. But it had a secret: the company was majority owned by the London parent. As the US came to eclipse the UK, the arrangement led to growing tensions. Finally, in 1951, London was persuaded to sell its stake. But the UK firm found itself unable to use the family name for a new American venture, sparking a legal fight that lasted until 2002. This account of an important event in publishing history adds new detail from archival sources, supporting a fresh reading and correcting earlier errors. It also brings into view a significant amount of material that is published for the first time. The article argues that, although there were hard business reasons for the sale, cultural and personal factors were also consequential and these two types of agency, rational and emotional, work in interrelated ways.

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