Bertelsmann, the German company that also owns Bantam Books, Doubleday Publishing, Dell Publishing, Times Books, the Modern Library, Everyman's Library, Vintage Books, Crown Publishing Group, Schocken Books, Ballantine Books, Del Rey Books, Fawcett Publications also acquired Random House in 1998, making Bertelsmann the largest publisher of American books.
In addition to classics, international fiction, and trade paperbacks, recently Pantheon has moved aggressively into the comics market. It has published many critically acclaimed graphic novels and comics collections, including Ice Haven, La Perdida, Read Yourself RAW, Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers, and Black Hole. Many of its comics publications are high-quality collected editions of works originally serialized by other publishers such as Fantagraphics Books.
Pantheon Books was founded in 1942 in New York City by Helen and Kurt Wolff who had come to the United States to escape fascism and the Holocaust. Pantheon is currently part of Bertelsmann. Important early works published by Pantheon were Zen and the Art of Archery by German scholar Eugen Herrigel, the Bollingen series (composed of C. G. Jung's collected works in English and books of noted Jungian scholars), the first complete translation of the I Ching, and Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.
When Random House bought Alfred A. Knopf in 1960, the front page of the New York Times reported that the merger "united two of the nation's most celebrated publishers of quality writing". The following year, Random House would buy Pantheon, which would be moved into the Knopf Publishing Group. Also in 1961, Pantheon hired Andre Schiffrin as executive editor of Pantheon Books.
Under the direction of Schiffrin, Pantheon continued to publish important works by European writers such as The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, who would later receive a Nobel Prize for his work; Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault, The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and Adieux by Simone de Beauvoir. By the late 1960s, Pantheon started to bring American writers such as Noam Chomsky, James Loewen and Studs Terkel to European readers. In 1965, RCA bought Random House. Throughout the 1970s, Pantheon continued to publish intellectual and often leftist works of fiction and nonfiction "without a profit-and-loss sheet in sight". In other words, Pantheon editors prided themselves on subsidizing the cost of publishing less commercially successful (but socially or intellectually important) works with the profits from more commercially successful books.
In 1980, RCA sold Random House to Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr., and Pantheon Books came under pressure to increase profits.
In early 2009, long-time Pantheon publisher Janice Goldklang was laid off as part of a general restructuring of Random House and its publishing divisions.
Pantheon and Random House, which at the time was owned by SI Newhouse, were plagued with controversy throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. In December 1989, Alberto Vitale, a former banker, replaced Robert L. Berstein as chairman and president of Random House. In February 1990, Schiffrin was "asked to resign after he refused to reduce the number of titles published [by Pantheon] or to trim Pantheon's 30-member staff". In protest at Schiffrin's forced resignation and other changes in staffing, such as the hiring of Erroll McDonald, editors and staff Tom Engelhardt, Wendy Wolf, Sara Bershtel, Jim Peck, Susan Rabiner, David Sternbach, Helena Franklin, Diane Wachtell, Gay Salisbury, and several others resigned in the following months. Authors of books published by Pantheon, Random House, and other related imprints, including Studs Terkel, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Princeton historian Arno Mayer, and Barbara Ehrenreich, held a protest outside Random House in March 1990 during which they argued that the termination of Schiffrin amounted to corporate censorship of the books that would not be printed without him. Novelist E. L. Doctorow used his acceptance speech for a fiction prize at the March 1990 National Book Critics Circle award ceremony to criticize Random House for ousting Schiffrin.
In the week following the protests, 40 Random House editors and publishers signed a statement that defended the personnel changes at Pantheon, stating: "like Pantheon, we abhor corporate censorship. We have never experienced it, nor do we believe that Pantheon has ever experienced it. We would not tolerate censorship of any form, and we are offended by any suggestion to the contrary. But, unlike Pantheon, we have preserved our independence and the independence of our authors by supporting the integrity of our publishing programs with fiscal responsibility". Another supporter of Schiffrin's termination wrote that the protests and resignations were "a hilarious specimen of people intoxicated by self-importance. It also is a case study of the descent of intellectuals' leftism into burlesque".
In 1998, Random House made news again when it was bought by Bertelsmann. The Authors Guild approached the Fair Trade Commission, arguing that "the $1.4 billion acquisition of Random House by Bantam's parent, Bertelsmann AG, the German media conglomerate, would create a "new economic behemoth" with the potential to restrict readers' choices and authors' ability to market their works". Bertelsmann was allowed to make the purchase, however, making it the largest publisher of English-language trade books. Again, Schiffrin protested, noting that in the eight years since Random House had come under the direction of Vitale, "Random House's 'high end'—the literary translations and books of criticism, cultural history and political analysis that had built the reputation of the Knopf and Pantheon imprints—were being sacrificed" and that concerns for the "bottom line" would outweigh intellectual and social concerns.
Schiffrin published a memoir in 2000, in which he explains his side of the controversies surrounding Pantheon and Random House called The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read, in which he accused Vitale and those with money-making interests of homogenizing the publishing industry by focusing too much on profits, and warns: "the resulting control on the spread of ideas is stricter than anyone would have thought possible in a free society". In a 2003 interview, former Pantheon editor Tom Engelhardt reflects on the Pantheon controversy in light of the acquisition by Bertelsmann: "Pantheon was a very specific place, publishing a very specific kind of book, and we felt that was being wiped out. As it turned out, what happened at Pantheon was the beginning of the gargantuan feasting on the independent publishing house and not-so-independent houses as well."
Pantheon continues to publish well-respected fiction and non-fiction, and has more recently expanded further into graphic novels. Pantheon re-issed books in the graphic-based "...For Beginners" series (originally published by Writers and Readers Cooperative) in the 1970s and 1980s; deciding to bring the series back in 2003.
One of the first original graphic novels Pantheon published was the highly acclaimed Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman in 1986. Spiegelman has become somewhat of a comics consultant, advising editor-in-chief Dan Frank. Another key member of the Pantheon Graphic Novels team is graphic designer Chip Kidd.
In 2000, Pantheon published The Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware. In 2005, Pantheon published The Rabbi's Cat, a graphic novel by Joann Sfar that "tells the wholly unique story of a rabbi, his daughter, and their talking cat". Notable cartoonists whose graphic novels have been published by Pantheon include Spiegelman, Ware, Dan Clowes, Ben Katchor, Marjane Satrapi, and David Mazzucchelli.