James Silberman, Editor Who Nurtured Literary Careers, Dies at 93


After graduating from Cambridge Latin School, he served in the Army after World War II and then attended Harvard.

He married Leona Nevler, an editor, in 1960; they divorced in 1976. In 1986 he married Ms. Shapiro, who survives him, along with two children from his first marriage, Michael and Ellen Silberman; his sister, Dorothy Altman; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Silberman was a natty dresser, a dashing wheelman (he became an amateur pilot at 50 and drove a Mazda RX-7 convertible sports car on weekends) and a scrupulous wordsmith who at 86, even after suffering a stroke, finished editing two books.

Mr. Cerf, who took pride in all his top editors, said in the mid-1960s that “the best one of all for the purposes of great corporate handling of manuscripts is Jim Silberman, who is now being made editor in chief, because he’s the one willing to do all of the dirty work of seeing what happens to all of these manuscripts.”

Among the authors with whom Mr. Silberman had especially tortured relationships was Mr. Thompson, the gonzo journalist who wrote books about “Fear and Loathing” and whose struggle to write a book tentatively called “The Death of the American Dream” is recorded in his letters to Mr. Silberman in books edited by Douglas Brinkley.

Mr. Silberman once said of Mr. Thompson, “Your method of research is to tie yourself to a railroad track when you know a train is coming to it, and see what happens.” And, when Mr. Thompson killed himself at 67 in 2005, Mr. Silberman remarked, “He spent his life in search of an honest man, and he seldom found any.”

Coaxing a book out of Mr. Thompson, or for that matter a more conventional writer, meant “helping the author write the best book he or she can write at that moment in time,” which requires that “every time you turn that page, you are open and hopeful,” Mr. Silberman once said.

“It’s very difficult to think your way into a story,” he added. “You have to feel your way into it, which requires you to approach the manuscript with a certain kind of naïveté. You have to return to the kind of reader all of us once were.”



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