The Literary Mafia: Jews, Publishing, and Postwar American Literature

Yale University Press. 2022. $35.

Yale University Press / Amazon /

Reviews and blurbs: 

Kirkus Reviews (May 6, 2022).

Publishers Weekly (April 8, 2022).

“The Literary Mafia is a thorough, unflaggingly intelligent, and original study of Jewish presence in American literary institutions during the twentieth century and after. A pleasure to read.”—Evan Brier, author of A Novel Marketplace

“At every turn, The Literary Mafia looks forward by looking backward. Josh Lambert’s shrewd, astringent account of Jews as novelists, critics, editors, and publishers provokes us to envision tomorrow’s news:  the wholesale transformation of American letters with a fresh and diverse array of voices.”—Esther Schor, author of Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language

“Catnip for anyone fascinated by the intricacies of the publishing world, this subtle and judicious book investigates an insufficiently examined aspect of American Jewish cultural history while posing important questions—about who decides which books get published, and why—that resonate strongly in the present.”—Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

“From the very first page, this book is funnier and more gripping than a book on publishing has any right to be. Anyone interested in America’s intellectual or Jewish history must read this, and anyone looking for an engrossing story should.”—Emily Tamkin, author of Bad Jews

Short description: 

An investigation into the transformation of publishing in the United States from a field in which Jews were systematically excluded to one in which they became ubiquitous.


In the 1960s and 1970s, complaints about a “Jewish literary mafia” were everywhere. Although a conspiracy of Jews colluding to control publishing in the United States never actually existed, such accusations reflected a genuine transformation from an industry notorious for excluding Jews to one in which they are arguably the most influential figures.

Josh Lambert examines the dynamics between Jewish editors and Jewish writers; how Jewish women exposed the misogyny they faced from publishers; and how children of literary parents have struggled with and benefited from their inheritances. Drawing on interviews and tens of thousands of pages of letters and manuscripts, The Literary Mafia offers striking new discoveries about celebrated figures such as Lionel Trilling and Gordon Lish, and neglected fiction by writers like Ivan Gold, Ann Birstein, and Trudy Gertler.

In the end, we learn how the success of one minority group has lessons for all who would like to see American literature become more equitable.