Books: Publishing Was His Line

AT RANDOM by Bennett Cerf; Random House; 306 pages; $12.95

Before he came along, publishing was a gentleman's profession, and books were sold with dignity and decorum, like vintage antiques or old-master drawings. But Bennett Cerf s ego was a volume in itself, and he hawked his wares as if he were conducting the 1812 Overture—with dash, brass and lots of exploding canons. "Everyone has a streak of pure, unadulterated ham," he proclaimed. "Many won't admit it. I revel in it!"

Other publishers waited for authors. Cerf sought them out and flattered, charmed—and signed...

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