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John Gross

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John Gross
Born(1935-03-12)12 March 1935
London, England, United Kingdom
Died10 January 2011(2011-01-10) (aged 75)
Alma materWadham College, Oxford
SpouseMiriam Gross
ChildrenTom Gross, Susanna Gross
RelativesJohn Preston (son-in-law)
Kurt May (father-in-law)

John Gross FRSL (12 March 1935 – 10 January 2011)[1][2][3] was an English man of letters. A leading intellectual, writer, anthologist, and critic,[4] The Guardian (in a tribute titled "My Hero")[5] and The Spectator were among several publications to describe Gross as "the best-read man in Britain".[6] The Guardian's obituarist Ion Trewin wrote: "Mr Gross is one good argument for the survival of the species",[7] a comment Gross would have disliked since he was known for his modesty. Charles Moore wrote in The Spectator: "I am left with the irritated sense that he was under-appreciated. He was too clever, too witty, too modest for our age."[8]

Gross was the editor of The Times Literary Supplement from 1974 to 1981, senior book editor and book critic on the staff of The New York Times from 1983 to 1989,[9] and theatre critic for The Sunday Telegraph from 1989 to 2005. He also worked as assistant editor on Encounter and as literary editor of The New Statesman and Spectator magazines.

Early life and academic career[edit]

Gross was born and raised in London's East End,[10] to Abraham Gross, a Jewish immigrant from the Polish-Jewish town of Horochów,[11] (Gross's family escaped before the entire Jewish population was killed in The Holocaust), and to Muriel Gross, of Russian-Jewish origin, whose parents came from Vitebsk, an area later represented in the paintings of Chagall. He had one brother, Tony Gross, who founded Cutler and Gross, an international fashion eyewear business which was a supplier to the fashion and film industries. Among his cousins was the composer Lionel Bart.[citation needed]

Gross was educated at the Perse School in Cambridge and at the City of London School. A child prodigy, he was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford, aged 17.[12]

After gaining first-class honours in English Literature at Oxford he won a fellowship at Princeton, where he undertook postgraduate studies. He then returned to England and taught at Queen Mary, University of London and at King's College, Cambridge, of which he was a fellow from 1962 to 1965.[12] In later life, he taught courses at Columbia and Princeton universities.


His works as author include The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969; revised 1991, winner of the Duff Cooper Prize), James Joyce (1970), Shylock: Four Hundred Years in the Life of a Legend (1993), and his childhood memoir A Double Thread (2001). His works as an editor and anthologist include After Shakespeare: Writing inspired by the world’s greatest author (2002), The Oxford Book of Aphorisms (1983), The Oxford Book of Essays (1991), The Oxford Book of Comic Verse (1994), The New Oxford Book of English Prose (1998), The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (2006), The Modern Movement, Dickens and the Twentieth Century (reissued 2008), and The Oxford Book of Parodies (2010).

Several of his books won prizes. He also won praise from fellow writers.[13][14] "The publication of John Gross's The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters, when I was a bookish teenager, undoubtedly determined for me the direction I wanted my life to take... It became my Bible," wrote A.N. Wilson in The Spectator magazine in 2006.[15]

John Gielgud wrote "I read John Gross’s fascinating Shylock book straight through twice and enjoyed it more than I can say."

John Updike called The New Oxford Book of English Prose "a marvelous gem… I wonder if there has ever been an anthology quite like it – with so vast a field – the virtually infinite expanse of English-language prose – for the anthologist to roam… I have been rapturously rolling around in John Gross’s amazing book for days."

Harold Pinter, who grew up in the same working-class East End London neighbourhood as Gross, found Gross's childhood memoir, A Double Thread, "a most rich, immensely readable and very moving book. I recognised so much."[16]


Gross wrote regularly on literary and cultural topics for The New York Review of Books,[17] The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, The New Criterion,[18] Commentary,[19] The Spectator, Standpoint,[20] The Observer, The New Statesman and The New York Times.

Public life[edit]

He was a trustee of London's National Portrait Gallery from 1977 to 1984. He served two terms on the English Heritage advisory committee on blue plaques, and was on the Arts and Media Committee advising the British government on the award of public honours.[21] He served as chairman of the judges of the Booker Prize,[22][23] and was a member of The Literary Society.

He was a non-executive independent director of Times Newspaper holdings, the publishers of The Times and The Sunday Times, from 1982 to 2011.[24]

Private life[edit]

John Gross was married to Miriam Gross, also a prominent literary editor, from 1965 to 1988. The couple had two children, Tom Gross and Susanna Gross. Gross lived in London, with spells of time living in New York in the 1960s and 1980s. He was a member of the Beefsteak Club.[25]


  1. ^ Kimball, Roger (15 January 2011). "A Tonic, Humane and Civilizing Force". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  2. ^ Grimes, William (12 January 2011). "John Gross Dies at 75; Critic, Essayist and Editor". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 July 2024.
  3. ^ "John Gross". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  4. ^ Richmond, Theo (12 March 2001). "At the Mile End of the rainbow". Evening Standard. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  5. ^ "My hero: Victoria Glendinning on John Gross". the Guardian. 15 January 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  6. ^ "Ready for take-off" "The Oxford Book of Parodies | John Gross (Editor) | Review by the Spectator". Archived from the original on 27 May 2010. Retrieved 29 August 2010. (By Bevis Hillier, The Spectator, 19 May 2010)
  7. ^ The Guardian, John Gross obituary, By Ion Trewin, The Guardian, 11 January, 2011
  8. ^ (12 January 2011)
  9. ^ Articles by John Gross for The New York Times.
  10. ^ Patricia Craig "How an East End boy became a man of letters", The Independent, 21 March 2001).
  11. ^ "Gorokhov, Ukraine (English pages 3 - 21)". www.jewishgen.org. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  12. ^ a b Obituary: John Gross, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2011.
  13. ^ "You really must read". The Sunday Times. 14 May 2006.
  14. ^ "Book of the week". The Guardian. 15 July 2006.
  15. ^ The Spectator magazine (17 June 2006). Archived 19 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "John Gross obituary". the Guardian. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  17. ^ The New York Review of Books, John Gross articles 1963-present.
  18. ^ The New Criterion, John Gross articles and references.
  19. ^ Commentary, John Gross articles 1961-present.
  20. ^ Standpoint, John Gross articles.
  21. ^ "Rushdie furore stuns honours committee", The Guardian, 20 June 2007
  22. ^ "Looking back at the Booker: VS Naipaul", The Guardian, 21 December 2007
  23. ^ The Booker Prize judges.
  24. ^ "New Times editor next week?" The Guardian, 5 December 2007
  25. ^ Theo Richmond "At the Mile End of the rainbow", London Evening Standard, 12 March 2001).