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Jonathan Beck

Rendezvous on Ainmillerstraße, a street in Munich’s Schwabing neighbourhood and historic home to many prominent members of the German literary and cultural world. Since 1889, the family-owned publisher C.H.Beck has had its offices here. It is a bright, frosty day, with snow on the ground and sunshine. On this wintry morning, straight out of a picture book, Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurter Buchmesse, has arranged to meet with the seventh-generation publisher Jonathan Beck.
Juergen Boos und Jonathan Beck
© Ulrike Frömel

Jonathan Beck (JBe): Welcome to our offices on Ainmillerstraße. By the way, there is an entire book dedicated to this street. Thomas Mann lived on this street and wrote his novella "Gladius Dei" here at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Juergen Boos (JBo): A very appropriate setting then. With "German Stories", we want to introduce the global publishing audience to iconic German publishers. One of the most important of these being C.H.Beck, not least because of the great tradition of your family business. How did it all begin?

JBe: The founder of this house, Carl Gottlob Beck, was an immigrant from Saxony who moved to the Free Imperial City of Nördlingen and took over a printing house in 1763. He then not only printed for clients, but also began to publish books on his own. One crucial factor for him was that the censor in Nördlingen was much less invasive than in other cities. 

JBo: This is not unlike the origin story of the Frankfurter Buchmesse, which began in Mainz. Mainz was the seat of a bishopric and was subject to heavy censorship, so the Buchmesse moved to the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt, far away from the pope, and along a trade route stretching from Lyon to Leipzig. It was a place in which the book trade could flourish.

JBe: Nördlingen worked well for us, too. Over time, the publishing house began to specialise in academic topics. At some point, nearby Munich became a more attractive location due to its university. But we still maintain our printing house in Nördlingen, with 350 employees. Nördlingen also remains an important IT location for us, and much of the work for the Beck online database of our legal publishing division is done there.

English-language literature has played an important role for us

JBo: As a reader, I am familiar with C.H.Beck’s literary list through two authors in particular: Paula Fox and Andre Dubus. How did you manage to develop such a significant list over time?

JBe: It’s perhaps not a coincidence that you’ve named two American authors. English-language literature has played an important role for us, with authors like Anthony Doerr, Lily King, Daniel Mason, and Liz Moore. This has remained an essential aspect of our profile, alongside our par­allel focus on German-language literature, with authors such as Jonas Lüscher, Norbert Scheuer, Hans Pleschinski, and Sabine Gruber. But these are not the first literary authors for C.H.Beck. Our house classic is Heimito von Doderer, whose bestselling novel "Die Strudlhofstiege" ("The Strudlhof Steps"), published in 1952, was translated into English not too long ago [laughs] for the first time.

JBo: To me, your lists are a byword for quality. I do wonder, however, whether readers are aware of this. Is the publisher an important brand name in its own right? We have Suhrkamp, Hanser, and C.H.Beck – a triumvirate of quality publishers.

JBe: I believe your characterisation has applied to our non-fiction list for some time now. By number of titles, we are the leading quality non-fiction publisher in Germany. But I’m pleased to hear that you think the same of our literary list.

JBo: Under one roof, you house legal publishing as well as a culturally and politically inflected programme for non-fiction and literature. How would you define C.H.Beck’s overall mission?

JBe: Fundamentally, we stand for democracy, freedom of expression, and the constitutional state. Freedom of expression and the democratic constitutional state require one another. This is why it makes sense to have both divisions under one roof. In the end, they serve the same purpose: to uphold and defend liberal democracy.

JBo: I would connect the idea of ‘sense-making’, or making meaning, to your publishing house.

JBe: Yes, that fits. In non-fiction, it’s the historical and political discourse that defines us. Literature, art and culture are important subject areas in addition. I’m quite proud of this mix and believe that many of our employees and authors enjoy being able to address pressing contemporary topics through their work in publishing. 

C.H.Beck Verlagshaus
© Ulrike Frömel

The C.H.Beck company building at Wilhelmstraße 9 on the corner of Ainmillerstraße was completed in 1950 by architect Roderich Fick. 
On top: the view from the garden
At the bottom: the entrance to the building

JBo: How do you find and attract excellent talent to your house?

JBe: We are, and to my mind always have been, a publishing house driven by a programme. There are other houses that, justifiably, are more sales-driven. But in our house, the editors walk through the hallways with their heads held a little bit higher than the colleagues in other divisions. They have a corresponding desire for quality works. Recruiting has become a problem in general for publishers today. Fortunately, that’s not yet the case for our editorial staff.

JBo: It’s noteworthy that your employees tend to stay with you for a long time. I’m thinking of important personalities, such as Martin Hielscher in literature, or the quasi-legendary Detlef Felken. They have put their personal stamp on the programme for over twenty years. 

JBe: This has to do with our work environment and our high level of respect for our employees, but it should be typical for family businesses in every sector. In a business such as ours, it goes without saying that family members may not be especially qualified for a job simply because of their background, regardless of whether they work as publishers or in other areas of the business. We know how important it is to have good employees on all levels, to value them, and to give them the space to grow and de­velop. There is a nice anecdote to this effect dating from the time of my grandfather, Heinrich Beck. In his era, the editor Horst Wiemer made Heimito von Doderer famous. And at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, it was Wiemer who spent the night in the Hessischer Hof, not my grandfather. It was the editor who needed the lobby of the Hessischer Hof more to do his job than his publisher.

JBo: What distinguishes C.H.Beck’s German­language literature?

JBe: That’s a good question. Recently, I sat down with our programme director for fiction, Susanne Krones, to brainstorm a slogan or guiding principle for our literary division. Our slogan for the whole house is ‘The World in a Book’. One could modify it, for our literature list, to ‘Telling the World’s Stories’. In non-fiction, history, facts, and the desire to show what really happened play an important role. But curiosity about the world at large also defines many of our literary acquisitions. One example is Lily King’s "Euphoria", a fictionalised but very well-researched story about Margaret Mead in Papua New Guinea. When we first read it, we knew immediately that this was ‘a Beck book’.

Euphoria Cover beschnitten

Highly praised also for its eye-catching cover: the C.H.Beck edition of Lily King’s Euphoria.

Our slogan for the whole house is ‘The World in a Book’

JBo: Brain research looks at ‘the world in our heads.’ I think ‘The World in a Book’ suits Beck beautifully.

JBe: Thank you. We recently acquired the Unionsverlag to join our publishing group. Its founding publisher, Lucien Leitess, has since 1975 pursued an agenda that we would describe today as ‘postcolonial’. His approach also fits nicely with ‘The World in a Book’.

JBo: The Unionsverlag was always an important partner for the LitProm society, which champions and promotes literature from the Global South.

JBe: The Unionsverlag fills a gap for us, since C.H.Beck has so far largely been oriented towards the western world, perhaps because of our strong ties to academia. We tend to focus on expert voices from communities we know. At Unions­verlag, in contrast, what matters is the original voice from a particular region. 

JBo: The core of your publishing house, its DNA, is your desire for quality. And, secondly, the idea that one should tell more than just a story. What defines this sense of ‘more’?

JBe: That we can learn something from the story that’s being told. When Sabine Gruber tells a story of mourning in her latest novel, "Die Dauer der Liebe" ("The Permanence of Love"), in which a woman is confronted with the sudden death of her life partner and reflects on the trips she took with him, 
an architect, to places in Italy that are filled with architecture from a fascist past, a political dimension enters the narrative. Indirectly, her novel also educates me about life under fascism.

JBo: How does your rights and licensing division work? Do your colleagues travel internationally? Do they travel to New York once a year to buy and sell rights?

JBe: We don’t do New York once a year for licensing, not even me. Our programme directors –  Susanne Krones in literature, and Sebastian Ullrich in non-fiction – take regular trips to London and New York. With eight acquiring editors, we probably have the most non-fiction editors of all the German quality publishers. In addition, we have three foreign rights representatives who attend all the European book fairs. We make a three-digit number of foreign rights deals every year. 

Juergen Boos und Jonathan Beck im Grünen Salon
© Ulrike Frömel

The conversation between Juergen Boos and Jonathan Beck took place in the ‘Grüne Salon’ – also known as the ‘Gartensalon’ for its beautiful view of the garden.

JBo: How do you explain the high level of foreign interest in German non-fiction?

JBe: We’re likely responsible for the fact that non-fiction written by German professors has long been viewed as well-researched, but hard to read. However, the style of academic non-fiction writing, including by professors, has greatly improved. "Ein Hof und elf Geschwister" ("A Farm and Eleven Children") by Ewald Frie is currently our most successful example: it’s a fact-filled history of German farming in the twentieth century, written in an accessible, humorous and personable style. It’s easier to interest foreign publishers in that kind of writing. One decisive factor is that authors are more interested in communicating clearly and reaching a large audience than they used to be. This aligns nicely with our own understanding of ourselves as a publisher – we see ourselves as a bridge between the university and the public. We help academics move beyond pure peer-to-peer communications.

Ein Hof und elf Geschwister Cover

Ewald Frie’s book, published in February 2023, was awarded the German Non-Fiction Prize 2023.

We want to empower debates and be pluralistic wherever possible

JBo: We’ve come back to our initial topic: strengthening democracy through the mediation of knowledge and ways of thinking.

JBe: This year, I believe that the role of our sector in promoting democratic processes will be a topic of international importance.

JBo: I’d like to turn to the topic of debates. On the one hand, Germany enjoys a healthy debate culture on a broad spectrum of topics; on the other, arguments often devolve into ad hominem, hurtful attacks. What does it mean, in this turbulent time, to publish sophisticated books that provoke debate? 

JBe: Books remain an excellent vehicle for debate culture: they construct positions and put forward arguments. We want to empower debates and be pluralistic wherever possible. We also try to facilitate debates within our house and represent multiple positions on controversial topics – if not in one book, then in two or three. Our ‘landmark’ German historians, for example, have for a long time included the more conservatively inclined Thomas Nipperdey as well as Hans-Ulrich Wehler, who is closer to the Social Democrats.

JBo: To me, the art of publishing seems to lie in the ability to address current events and simultaneously recognise their universal relevance – in other words, to publish books that won’t be forgotten in two years’ time.

JBe: That is, of course, our hope and our goal. Books should never aim to replace newspapers. They enjoy a higher degree of freedom and reflectiveness. It would be a waste of the work we put into each book if they were to disappear too quickly. This is why we avoid chasing trends. But some debates persist: Germany has been having a debate on immigration for thirty years now, and as such we naturally want to publish books on it. Books that endure.

JBo: Mr Beck, thank you very much for the conversation.

Juergen Boos und Jonathan Beck im Gespräch
© Ulrike Frömel


News about the books, the authors and the publisher can be found on or on or on

Dr. Jonathan Beck, born in Munich in 1977, studied Economics in Berlin, Toulouse and Mannheim. In 2008 he started work at C.H.Beck where, amongst other assignments, he was editorial director for Economics and Business in the company’s professional publishing division. Since February 2015 he has been the publisher for the trade division, following his father Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Beck as the seventh publisher there since 1763. Since 2023, when the Zurich-based Unionsverlag joined the C.H.Beck group of publishers, Jonathan Beck has served as President of its Board of Directors.

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