The Publisher Who Took Risks and Defied Orthodoxy

The publishing house Transaction has been a mainstay of unusual academic scrutiny and exploration for decades — one that the self-righteous priests of political certainty who run the field sought to exile from the arena of thought. It was the intellectual banquet served up for years by the prickly but brilliant Irving Louis Horowitz and after his passing by his formidable widow Mary Curtis and her associates in the firm.

As a publishing adventure, Transaction was immune to the forces of sentimental fashion. It sought out and worked to sharpen and polish promising material. It ran the outstanding social science journal, Society, and other magazines edited elsewhere, including some of the most arcane publications from often unexpected and neglected neighborhoods of universities.

Almost single-handedly among commercial publishers, it kept alive the healthy tradition of intelligent sociology pioneered by powerful analysts and synthesizers such as Max Weber and Georg Simmel. This was at a time when the discipline was overrun by fuzzy neo-theatrical concepts such as “role models” and “status seekers” and endless (some would say pointless) studies of the mating habits of college sophomores, all which could be done without leaving one’s office and without risking contamination by deeper notions of human hierarchy and brutal personal struggle.

Transaction kept itself apart from the melioristic view of sociological insight as a substitute for skilled political action. And it created an intellectual home for informed and sometimes oddball and cranky skepticism. How it managed its finances so that it could publish a respectable dossier of books each year and support a devoted and experienced staff was a mystery that often baffled scholars perusing its intriguing and catholic catalogs. These same scholars then turned around to submit their manuscripts with some confidence that they had a shot at reaching the wider world.

Meeting that agreeable if overwhelming challenge has now proved to be too much for Team Transaction and it has elected to be purchased by the Routledge publishing group. Scholars will wish them well while quietly humming “Adieu Transactors – and Thank You.”

2 thoughts on “The Publisher Who Took Risks and Defied Orthodoxy”

  1. Amazon shows a number of interesting titles by this publisher, and judging by the prices offered for most of them, Transaction should feel right at home at Routledge! (I have a number of Routledge titles and they tend to be, ah, not cheap).

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