John Brockman: A Portrait : The World Mind That Came In From the Counterculture

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Does he really need to spell all that out so clearly? After all, quite a few of the authors number among his clients. He markets them and their works globally, and they know exactly what he expects of them and what they can expect of him. As their literary agent, he never misses a business opportunity. Indeed, he has built a reputation for negotiating mind-boggling prices for individual works that, in contrast to Edge, adopt a more populist approach to the sciences. But above all, it’s his concept of The Third Culture that glitters, the miraculous formula that Brockman evokes to secure the supremacy of the so called hard sciences, even in the instances when the world and our place in it is surveyed in quasi-philosophical mode. As physicist, politician, and the novelist C. P. Snow lament, there is a chasm separating the twin cultures of the natural and human sciences; and the enterprising Brockman fills this divide with bestsellers from his Third Culture.

Business isn’t just blossoming, he says, it has never been better. Anyone harboring any doubts should pay him a visit on Fifth Avenue, where Brockman, Inc. has been spreading its wings of late in premises that are awash with light and where gravity seems to have been suspended. The two glass corner offices are a testament to transparency. The one for the company’s founder allows the Empire State Building to peek over his shoulder as he works at his paper-free desk; the other is for his son Max, the company’s brand new CEO, who can admire the perpetually breathtaking silhouette of the Flatiron Building though the gigantic windows. Between them Katinka Matson, the co-founder of Edge, President of Brockman Inc., mother of Max, and business and life partner of John—has stylishly set up shop. As the daughter of a literary agent, the profession is in her DNA. In her spare time she now brightens up the office with multi-colored, larger-than-life scans of floral images.

Brockman, who was born in 1941, could comfortably retire and devote himself completely to Edge, his intellectual hobby. But Edge is no mere hobby for him, no pastime pursued at times when the demands of work abate. „I have never thought of money. I have only ever done what interested me, and that always brought in enough to get me by.“ Before opening his Internet salon, he had published a newsletter with the same title and philosophical outlook. This evolved out of the Reality Club. „Trippy stuff“ topped the agenda when a group of people started meeting in New York during the 1980s, a group whose fluctuating composition included the physicist Freeman Dyson, the feminist Betty Friedan, the social revolutionary Abbie Hoffman and the film stars Ellen Burstyn and Dennis Hopper. They were charged with asking each other the questions that they asked themselves. No instant answers were expected. The focus was on asking the questions. In literary New York Brockman had never glimpsed the prospect of this type of exchange of ideas, the adventure that he wanted for himself and to share with others. He preferred the empirical study of our cosmos, on both micro and macro scales, to the imagined world. Not that this forced him to relinquish story-telling. With the frequently spectacular experiences they describe, the books and authors he represents offer him more suspense and excitement than he can find in any novel. And his own life? As he describes it, that too emerges as a collection of gripping stories that veer off in numerous different directions while always following a clear, very personal line. From Day One he was curious and hungry for knowledge, and had an appetite for excitement and new experiences.


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