An Author With a Passion for Philanthropy

An Author With a Passion for Philanthropy
Lunch at the Four Seasons
By PRANAY GUPTE, Special to the Sun | February 21, 2006

Barbara Goldsmith says she was born to share.

"It was inculcated in me early that if you were privileged, then you're obliged to give back to society," the author of best sellers and historian said yesterday."My parents made it clear to my sister Ann and me that it was important to think about other people, and not just yourself."

She took their exhortation seriously. Almost as much as her notable books - "Little Gloria ... Happy at Last," "Johnson v. Johnson," "Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie," and "Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull" - are celebrated, Ms. Goldsmith is herself celebrated for her philanthropy.

"I believe in saving people and saving books," she said.

The people she "saves" are involved with books. Nearly 20 years ago, Ms. Goldsmith conceived the "PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards."They help focus attention on imprisoned writers. Of the 37 writers imprisoned or missing at the time of her awards, 34 were subsequently set free.

The books that Ms. Goldsmith "saves" are to be found in myriad places, including the Goldsmith Conservation and Preservation Laboratories at the New York Public Library. She also has donated the preservation and conservation departments to New York University, and she has gifted a state-of-the-art rare-books library to the American Academy in Rome and another one to her alma mater, Wellesley College.

Ask her to elaborate on her philanthropy, and Ms. Goldsmith demurs.

"I've been very fortunate to find the trip joyful - full of love and good work," she said. "What more could one ask?"

One could, of course, ask her about the wellspring of her sensibility. The response is to be anticipated: her parents.

Ms. Goldsmith's father, Joseph I. Lubin, was born as the youngest of eight children in a Lower East Side tenement. He established himself as an accountant and lawyer, rising to become board chairman of Pepsi-Cola at 40. He endowed Pace University's Lubin School of Business and Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine.Along with John D. Rockefeller II, he donated millions for the purchase of stockyards along the East River in 1946 so a headquarters for the United Nations could be built.

"His was an authentic rags-to-riches story," Ms. Goldsmith said.

Her mother hailed from more fortunate circumstances than Lubin. Evelyn Cronson's father, Reuben, was chief of surgery at New York's Presbyterian Hospital. Active in social work, Evelyn helped retarded children; during World War II, she prepared bandages for troops - and she taught her younger daughter the technique.

"She also taught me how important it was to have a happy family life," Ms. Goldsmith said."She would say,'Be careful - you don't want a scrapbook full of honors, but no life.' One of my mother's regrets was that her father, a doctor, never let her be a doctor herself."

That would have been one of the few regrets in an otherwise fulfilling life. Evelyn Cronson Lubin lived to see Barbara Goldsmith develop into an acclaimed writer - one of the most successful practitioners of what came to be called "The New Journalism" - and an Emmy-winning documentary maker.

She lived to see Ms.Goldsmith's three adult children - Alice, John, and Andrew - get married and have children.

She did not live to see Ms. Goldsmith's six grandchildren. Neither did she live to see her daughter organize 2,500 of America's most influential writers to insist that they be published on cost-comparable permanent paper, which lasts 300 years instead of deteriorating in 30. Ms. Goldsmith secured a $20 million grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities for paper preservation.

"This will potentially save billions of future dollars that might otherwise be spent on preservation," Ms. Goldsmith said.

Her work on technical and business matters relating to publishing might suggest that Ms. Goldsmith had commerce in her DNA.

Not so, she said.

"No business was ever discussed in our house," Ms. Goldsmith said. "What was discussed was history.We were given quizzes at the dining table. My father was an American-history buff. We had a large library. I read everything that I could get my hands on - Dumas, Thackeray, Proust, Dickens."

It was quite possibly such reading that spawned in her a desire to write. When she was nine, Ms. Goldsmith created a character named Jackson the Jester, and she read her composition aloud before her class at Mayflower Grammar School in New Rochelle. When she finished, she noticed that several of her fellow students were cry ing because of the pathos in the story.

"That was a 10-minute recitation - 10 minutes that changed my life," Ms. Goldsmith said.

She vowed to become a writer. While she was at high school,she worked summers for Town & Country magazine. Later, she worked for the New Yorker. She gained early notice for her profiles of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Danny Kaye, and Deborah Kerr. Ms. Goldsmith also interviewed and wrote about Picasso, Marcel Breuer, and I.M. Pei, among other artists and architects.

"I've always been curious - I like to peel the onion," Ms. Goldsmith said. "If something doesn't make sense, then you don't take it at face value," she said.

That could well be a tutorial for today's crop of young writers. But Ms. Goldsmith said the term "The New Journalism" is a misnomer.

"There's good journalism and bad - that's it," she said.

What she frets about is that there isn't enough of the observation, detail, intuitiveness, and understanding of people in much of today's reporting and writing.

"And where has the passion gone?" she asked. "It's so important to have a sense of adventure."

A reporter, who recalled reading her magazine profiles and early books as a young man, asked Ms. Goldsmith how she saw her extraordinary life in the privacy of her mind.

She replied: "The joy has been in the doing."

An Author With a Passion for Philanthropy
Lunch at the Four Seasons
By PRANAY GUPTE, Special to the Sun | February 21, 2006

Selected Works

Best-selling author Barbara Goldsmith on the myth and reality behind the extraordinary "Madame Curie".
“Absorbing, sweeping ... richness of narrative ... complex morally nuanced portraits ... compelling narrative power ... fabulously rich.”
--The New York Times
“Fascinating . . . An engrossing tale of greed, incest, treachery, legal incompetence, corruption, wealth and weakness.”
“Prodigiously researched this book has vast range. Staggering, gripping, confounding, informative, it is extraordinary.”
--Time Magazine
“Brilliant, fascinating, chilling—a marvelously entertaining novel about the decadent world of the super rich and the New York art establishment.” --Peter Maas
Read Barbara Goldsmith's essay "You Know, I Could Write the Most Wonderful Book" from the September 30th, 1984 issue of The New York Times Book Review.
Barbara Goldsmith's Op-Ed article for the New York Times on the controversy of the removal of Larry Rivers "Legs" from Sag Harbor, Long Island.
"La Dolce Viva" by Barbara Goldsmith. New York Magazine, 1968.
TOM WOLFE'S recounting of the beginning of New York Magazine
"No longer are there immutable standards by which to judge ourselves. Image has overtaken reality." -- Barbara Goldsmith, The New York Times Magazine, 1983
Barbara Goldsmith's contribution to the book "Windows on Central Park: The Landscape Revealed" by Betsy Pinover Schiff
Barbara Goldsmith's contribution "An Ongoing Vision" to the monograph on Robert Wilson and The Watermill Center.
Barbara Goldsmith's article from The New Yorker entitled "Women on the Edge".
Pranay Gupte's article on Barbara Goldsmith for the New York Sun.
Read the interview with Barbara Goldsmith in the NYPL BookMark Magazine
"A Testament of Riches Shared" by Pamela Ryckman
Barbara Goldsmith's Blog on Barbie in the 21st Century
Barbara Goldsmith's Blog on the death of Casey Johnson
Barbara Goldsmith's blog from The Daily Beast on New York Public Library pensions
Barbara Goldsmith's blog from The Daily Beast on Ethics
Barbara Goldsmith writes on inherited wealth.