I write this in the deadline crunch as we tape up printouts of every page on an office wall for the “Walter review,” the moment of truth for every issue of IDEAS—the magazine that was Walter Isaacson’s brainchild, one of countless creations in his 14 years at the Institute. IDEAS is a window onto the life of the Institute, one that’s a mainstay of life inside and outside its many offices, particularly the Washington headquarters from which I write.
By the end of the year, we will have new offices—a countdown clock in the kitchen tells us not just how many days but how many minutes and seconds until our mid-December move—and likely a new leader. As spring began, Walter announced his decision to split his time between his home city of New Orleans, where he will be a University Professor in the history department of Tulane University and New York City, where he will be an Advisory Partner at Perella Weinberg, the financial-services firm where Bob Steel, the Institute’s most recent board chair, is CEO.
The wall review is a ritual of every print magazine, that vanishing species. I first met Walter when he was barely out of college and I wasn’t quite finished; we both worked at print magazines for decades, he of course becoming managing editor of Time (editor-in-chief at any other magazine), I at The Atlantic, where I am still a senior editor and sprint between our offices numerous times every week. At the wall review, un-euphonious headlines get rewritten, unharmonious layouts reworked, subtle emphases shifted, knotty text passages unknotted, mentions of recent Institute events too late for our deadlines squeezed into packed layouts. It’s a lot of work compressed into a short window of time. It’s also an exhilarating joy. We’re full-fledged citizens of the digital world. Walter has been one of its most foresighted chroniclers and, in his Time days, pioneers. But anyone lucky enough to get a taste for print never loses it.
We all look forward to working with a new leader who will bring a new vision to the Institute and set us moving down new, exciting paths. And who will bring that vision to the wall review on our new walls, which is about the most fun a working person can conjure up. But we’re enjoying every moment we’ve got, even if there isn’t a countdown clock to welcome our arrival. IDEAS will present its own Walter review in our next issue, our annual Summer at Aspen issue, another Walter creation. For now I’ll quote a short paragraph from a marvelous and heartfelt tribute that Trustee Madeleine Albright read at the conclusion of the spring board meeting in Chicago, at Board Chair Jim Crown’s request: “This is what makes Walter so special—he is not just a dreamer; he is a doer. And what he has done for Aspen, and with Aspen, has been nothing short of spectacular.”