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The story of Britain's colorful, contradictory publisher Gollancz

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Victor Gollancz: A Biography, by Ruth Dudley Edwards. London: Victor Gollancz, dist. by David & Charles, Inc., North Pomfret, Vt. 05053. 782 pp. Illustrated. $45. Two decades after his death, Victor Gollancz (1893-1967) is remembered almost solely for the publishing house he founded in 1927. It continues today as one of London's last independent publishers - one of the few not absorbed into one of the hydra-headed ``groups'' that dominate the British book trade.

But, as Ruth Dudley Edwards shows in this fine biography, Gollancz was a mass of contradictions. A hardheaded businessman making money off best-selling authors like Daphne du Maurier, he also published many money-losing books and pamphlets because they promoted the causes he championed. A nonpracticing Jew, he came to be regarded - on account of his fiery and influential preachings - as ``the best Christian in England'' (at a time and place where the designation sounded perhaps less patronizing than it does now). Founding genius behind the influential Left Book Club of the 1930s and '40s, which many thought responsible for bringing about Labour's stunning electoral victory in 1945, Gollancz admired Churchill far more than any of the Labour politicians.

A leader in the struggle to persuade his own nation and others to accept refugees from Hitler's Germany, Gollancz found himself bitterly attacked in the state of Israel for denouncing the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann. A man so devastated by the Nazi Holocaust that he had a nervous breakdown from contemplating the individual tragedies behind the vast numbers, Gollancz became a hero in postwar Germany because of his passionate campaign to improve the food rations of the defeated Germans. A happily married husband with five daughters and a champion of the sanctity of marriage, he was unfaithful to the end of his life to the wife he adored and even wrote about his infidelities in his autobiography. A loud proclaimer of the virtue of Christian forgiveness, he could be harsh and unforgiving to family, friends, employees, colleagues, collaborators, and even authors he published, including George Orwell, whom he lost in any case when he refused to publish ``Animal Farm.''

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