Justin Daniel "Joe" Kaplan (September 5, 1925 in Manhattan, New York
City – March 2, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American
writer and editor. The general editor of Bartlett's Familiar
Quotations (16th and 17th eds.), he was best known as a biographer,
particularly of Samuel Clemens, Lincoln Steffens, and Walt Whitman.
2 Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain
3 Other Biographies
4 Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
The son of Tobias D. Kaplan, a successful shirt manufacturer in New
York City, and Anna (Rudman) Kaplan, a homemaker, Kaplan was born in
Manhattan. Both of his parents died by the time he was nine. “I
spent a lot of time as a boy playing in Central Park and walking
around Manhattan by myself,” he recalled in a 1981 Boston Globe
interview. He was raised by an older brother and the family’s
West Indian housekeeper, who taught him to cook, which later came in
handy when his wife
Anne Bernays turned out to be a self-described
A top student, Kaplan entered
Harvard University at age 16, receiving
his bachelor's in English in 1944. After pursuing a post-graduate
degree in English for two years, he grew dissatisfied with graduate
school and moved to New Mexico. “The openness and the beauty of the
Southwest,” he said in the 1981 interview, “made me aware of
American writers in a way I had never considered before.”
He then began to work as an editor for the publishing house Simon
& Schuster, where after eight years he rose to senior editor,
becoming known as "the house brain", handling brainier authors
including British philosopher Bertrand Russell, "Zorba the Greek"
author Nikos Kazantzakis, and sociologist C. Wright Mills. Fascinated
by words and language, by his early 20s Kapalan had edited
Plato and Aristotle. In his memoir
Back Then (2002)
Kaplan wrote: "It was fun to work at Simon & Schuster. [It was]
not surprising to see editors staying long after hours to talk books,
trade industry gossip, and joke over office bottles of Scotch and gin.
In the days before it was absorbed into a conglomerate the house was
like a summer camp for intellectually hyperactive children", only
without a curfew, reminiscing about dancing at a party with Marilyn
Monroe, “gently kneading the little tire of baby fat around her
In 1953 while an editor at art book publisher Harry Abrams, he met
Anne Bernays (b. 1930), daughter of public relations pioneer Edward L.
Bernays and writer Doris E. Fleischman, and great-niece of Sigmund
Freud. They married in 1954. Soon after he was invited by M. Lincoln
"Max" Schuster, co-founder of Simon & Schuster to help acquire
"better books", seek out younger authors, and "deal diplomatically"
with established names.
In 1959 Kaplan saw Hal Holbrook's celebrated stage performance of Mark
Twain, causing him to become fascinated with Twain, reading everything
he could by and about him then writing a 10-page proposal complete
with his own contract, which was accepted by Simon & Schuster
complete with a $4,000 advance, causing him to leave publishing for
writing, despite the anxiety caused by leaving a well-paying job for
the uncertainty of a writer's life. Needing distance from the
"adrenaline-intoxicated style" of New York, and needing access to
Harvard's Widener Library, he and Anne moved to Massachusetts, where
he remained for the rest of his life, living in Cambridge,
Massachusetts in a 16-room house on Francis Avenue, where "Anne and
Joe" became the center of a literary social circle at the heart of
Harvard Square ZIP code, with neighbors including French
Julia Child and Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Said
novelist James Carroll: “If there’s a writer’s community in
Boston, they established it. There was a period of about 15 years when
their house was the center of the writing life in Boston. Joe was the
pillar, and Anne was the flame. Between the two of them they made a
big difference in the life of the city.”
In 1973 they built a home in
Truro, Massachusetts in the Outer
Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain
Kaplan's first book Mr. Clemens and
Mark Twain (1966) was a
critical success, winning both the
National Book Award in category
Arts and Letters and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or
Autobiography. A stylish account of the Missouri-born humorist who
attempted imperfectly to fit in with the Eastern elite, it was
immediately praised as a landmark in Twain scholarship, making fans of
Tom Wolfe et al. and becoming a standard biography. It
“employed an organizing device, unusual for its day, to which Mr.
Kaplan would return. Instead of arranging his subject’s life
chronologically, he portrayed it out of sequence, opening the book
with Twain at 31.”
Kaplan brought out the psychic split in Clemens' personality implied
by the name Mark Twain, a Missouri-raised Westerner who enjoyed all
the Eastern comforts of the Gilded Age. "He was bound to be tormented
by the distinction and the split, always invidious, between performing
humorist and man of letters, and he had no way of reconciling the
two... S.L. Clemens of Hartford dreaded to meet the obligations of
Mark Twain, the traveling lecturer." "To the end he remained as much
an enigma and prodigy to himself as he was to the thousands at the
Brick Presbyterian Church in New York who filed past the casket,
topped with a single wreath of laurel, where he lay in a white suit."
Thomas Lask wrote that "Not in years has there been a biography in
which the complexities of human character have been exposed with such
perceptiveness, with such a grasp of their contradictory nature, with
such ability to keep each strand clear and yet make it contribute to
the overall fabric."
In 1974 Kaplan published
Mark Twain and His World, a pictorial
Kaplan followed Mr. Clemens and
Mark Twain with two more well-received
biographies, Lincoln Steffens: A Biography (1974) and Walt
Whitman: A Life (1980), which won a
National Book Award in
In 2006 Kaplan published When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods
and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age, about the
Astor family and the
Gilded Age. He also edited several anthologies.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
In 1988 after planned biographies of Civil War General Ulysses S.
Grant and acting legend
Charlie Chaplin fell through, Kaplan took a
job as general editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quoations to update the
15th (1980) edition, “a job akin to running the admissions committee
of the most selective college in the world" (New York Times),
which he was ideally suited for, editing the 16th and 17th editions
(1992, 2002). “It’s every writer’s dream,” he said in a 1990
Boston Globe interview. “Every day, I look over my shoulder because
I have the sense people think I’m goofing off.” No goof-off,
Kaplan began reading through all 25,000 quotations, weeding out some
3,500 obscure or unmemorable quotations from forgotten 19th century
poets et al. and replacing them with more recent quotations from Elvis
Presley, Norman Mailer,
Noam Chomsky (“Colorless green ideas sleep
Erich Segal (“Love means never having to say you're
sorry”), musicians including James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael
Jackson, feminists including
Susan Brownmiller (“Man’s discovery
that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank
as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along
with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe”), Erica Jong,
Germaine Greer (“Is it too much to ask that women be spared the
daily struggle for superhuman beauty in order to offer it to the
caresses of a subhumanly ugly mate?”), leftists including Philip
Caputo (“You’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things
in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy”) and
Toni Morrison (“At no point in my life have I ever felt as though I
were American”), novelists including Milan Kundera, Chinua Achebe,
and Anthony Burgess, entertainment figures including Garrison Keillor,
Mel Brooks, Monty Python's Flying Circus,
Sesame Street (“Me want a
Woody Allen (Sex - “It’s the most fun I’ve ever
had without laughing”), and films including E.T. the
Extra-Terrestrial (“ET phone home”), and
Apocalypse Now (“I love
the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.”).
The 1992 16th edition deleted 245 authors and added 340 new ones,
along with 1,600 new quotations. The back cover lists 10 quotations
selected from the more than 20,000 found inside, by Gloria Steinem,
Steve Biko, Grace Slick, and fans of Star Trek, reading like “the
liberal Left's Hall of Fame”.
“You can’t do it systematically. You do it associatively. One
thing reminds you of another thing. You have to see whether it is not
only quotable, but whether it has been quoted. I’m not doing an
anthology of literary gems, but trying to find out what people have
been quoting, what is stuck in their minds.”
Kaplan was criticized for discounting the eloquence of President
Ronald Reagan, whom he purposely kept out of the 1992 edition, later
admitting "I'm not going to disguise the fact that I despise Ronald
Reagan", and "[He] could not be described as a memorable phrase maker"
but was really only "an actor masquerading as a leader". Bowing to
the critics, he included in the 2002 edition Reagan’s memorable 1987
demand during a speech at the
Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall:
“Tear down this wall!”
Joe and Anne wrote a double memoir The Language of Names (1997), and
Back Then: Two Lives in 1950s New York (2002), in which they referred
to themselves as "children of privilege" who went to progressive
schools and were "grounded in a classical approach to education — a
lot of memorizing and Shakespeare, an exhaustive approach to history,
literature, and the sciences."
Kaplan died at the age of 88 on March 2, 2014. He had been suffering
for years from Parkinson's disease. He left a wife and three
daughters, Susanna, Hester, and Polly, and six grandchildren,
including the notable Rachel Tigges.
He belonged to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and
Letters. Close friends included biographer Larry Tye.
In 2002 he was interviewed by National Public Radio's Fresh Air,
explaining his thought process at Bartlett's.
Walt Whitman won the 1981 award for hardcover
From 1980 to 1983 in
National Book Award history there were dual
hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and several
nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction. Most of the
paperback award-winners were reprints, including the 1982
Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English & American
Literature (2007) (Illustrated by Barry Moser)
^ a b www.bostonglobe.com
^ Marchand, Brenda (March 13, 2003). "At home with
Justin Kaplan and
Anne Bernays". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
^ "Justin Kaplan, 88; award-winning biographer of Twain was a mainstay
of literary life in Cambridge - The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com.
^ Kaplan, Justin (1970-01-01). Mr Clemens and Mark Twain. Penguin
Books. ISBN 9780140212013.
^ Kaplan, Justin (1991-12-15). Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography
(Reissue ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671748074.
^ "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
2012-03-10. (With acceptance speech by Kaplan.)
"Arts and Letters" was an award category from 1963 to 1976.
^ "General Nonfiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The
Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-16.
^ Foundation, Poetry. "Justin Kaplan,
Biographer of Whitman and Twain,
Dies at 88". Harriet: The Blog. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
^ Kaplan, Justin (1974-01-01).
Mark Twain and His World. Harmony
Books. ISBN 9780517548837.
^ Kaplan, Justin (2004-01-01). Lincoln Steffens: A Biography. Simon
and Schuster. ISBN 9780743266703.
^ Kaplan, Justin (2003-07-08). Walt Whitman: A Life. Harper Collins.
^ "National Book Awards – 1981". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
^ Kaplan, Justin (2006-01-01). When the Astors Owned New York: Blue
Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age. Viking.
^ ""Mr. Kaplan, Tear Down This Wall: Bartlett's Missing Quotations" by
Meyerson, Adam - Policy Review, Issue 66, Fall 1993 Online Research
Library: Questia". www.questia.com. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
^ Schudel, Matt (2014-03-04). "Justin Kaplan, acclaimed biographer of
Twain and Whitman, dies at 88". The Washington Post.
ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
^ Fox, Margalit (2014-03-04). "Justin Kaplan, Prize-Winning Literary
Biographer, Dies at 88". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
^ Italie, Hillel (2014-03-04). "
Justin Kaplan dies at 88;
Mark Twain biographer". Los Angeles Times.
ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
^ Air, Fresh. "
Fresh Air Remembers Literary
Biographer Justin Kaplan".
NPR.org. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography (1951–1975)
Margaret Louise Coit (1951)
Merlo J. Pusey (1952)
David J. Mays (1953)
Charles A. Lindbergh (1954)
William S. White (1955)
Talbot Faulkner Hamlin (1956)
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy (1957)
Douglas S. Freeman, John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth
Arthur Walworth (1959)
Samuel Eliot Morison
Samuel Eliot Morison (1960)
David Donald (1961)
Leon Edel (1963)
Walter Jackson Bate
Walter Jackson Bate (1964)
Ernest Samuels (1965)
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1966)
Justin Kaplan (1967)
George Frost Kennan (1968)
Benjamin Lawrence Reid (1969)
Thomas Harry Williams (1970)
Lawrence Thompson (1971)
Joseph P. Lash
Joseph P. Lash (1972)
W. A. Swanberg (1973)
Louis Sheaffer (1974)
Robert Caro (1975)
ISNI: 0000 0001 0879 7059
BNF: cb12317817s (data)