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Personal History

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  12,736 Ratings  ·  687 Reviews
Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

An extraordinarily frank, honest, and generous book by one of America's most famous and admired women, Personal History is, as its title suggests, a book composed of both personal memoir and history.

It is the story of Graham's parents: the multimillionaire father who left private business and government service to buy and rest
Paperback, 642 pages
Published February 24th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1980)
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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsNight by Elie WieselAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
108th out of 3,387 books — 3,884 voters
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Memoirs by Women
62nd out of 1,664 books — 2,070 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 05, 2007 Mollie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't always like biographies - they can be very self serving and trite. But I was blown away by this woman. Frankly, I didn't know much about her or her story of taking over the Washington Post upon the death of her husband - a job she really had been preparing for her whole life, if she knew it or not. Katherine Graham is a amazing, strong and wise woman, and she tells her tale in a very honest way, sharing her flaws, her mistakes and her regrets as lessons for the rest of us. She had a seat ...more
Jonathan Eng
Feb 25, 2014 Jonathan Eng rated it it was ok
This book is fascinatingly uninteresting. Katharine Graham lived bigger than most of us ever will, meeting Albert Einstein, kicking it with President Kennedy, living in homes decorated with Renoirs and Manets, spending summers at a second home with horses and daily refreshed flower bouquets, traveling the world, attending both Vassar and The University of Chicago, battling unions, investing with Warren Buffet, and broadcasting the Watergate scandal. Her life should have made for an interesting r ...more
May 02, 2009 Coco rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, women
This book was over six hundred pages and I enjoyed them all. While Katharine Graham's autobiography is ostensibly her own history, it's also the history of our country. Beginning with her father, Eugene Meyer, and his close dealings with the Hoover Administration and going all the way through her own birds-eye view of various presidents, including Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and, most fascinating of all, Nixon.

Graham's life was supposed to be much different. Married to Phil Graham who r
Jun 20, 2013 Sherri rated it it was amazing
My general rule of thumb when someone writes a book about herself-- approach it with a healthy amount of skepticism. How many of us can turn inward and take a critical look without skewing/slanting the results? Not many, but after reading this book, I am convinced that is exactly what Katharine Graham did in Personal History.

Above all things, this book feels honest. It is also moving, heartbreaking, perceptive, historical and inspiring. The book is multi-faceted. I appreciated the light it shed
Oct 14, 2008 Amanda rated it it was ok
This book had incredible potential. It could have easily been one of the most fascinating American autobiographies ever written. Instead, though I plowed my way through the whole thing, it was tepid, vapid, and bordered on dull.
Katherine Graham was born into the Washington elite. She met and socialized with every major political figure during her lifetime. She counted Lyndon Johnson, John and Jackie Kennedy, and Truman Capote among her close personal friends. Her husband, who grew up on a dairy
Jun 12, 2009 Lesley rated it it was amazing
I'm so happy I read this book, and it tied in nicely after reading No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Mrs. Graham was frightfully honest and this is one of the only times that I can say it was truly necessary to the book. I was turned off at first by her description of her grandmother being "the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen" (or something like that...) because oh, please, hasn't everyone said that about their grandmother in her heyday? And if this is how is starts, where will
Feb 19, 2008 Kristen rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club
Another book club book -- I wouldn't have picked it up to read it on my own, but I'm glad I read (most of) it. It was interesting as a social commentary, though there wasn't much personal emotion in it -- strange for an autobiography.

There was too much name-dropping and detail to make this an enjoyable read. It was also hard to sympathize with her at all when she talked about how hard it was to live with just a maid but not a cook, or how she had only one dress as a child (which she wore to ever
Dale Leopold
May 19, 2013 Dale Leopold rated it really liked it
Katharine Graham was thrust into the middle of history, much against her own introverted instincts. She was happy to play supportive housewife and mother while her father ran the Washington Post, succeeded by her brilliant, dynamic and bipolar husband, Phil Graham. Phil was a hugely influential figure in Washington; in one manic stretch he almost single-handedly engineered the Kennedy-Johnson presidential ticket.

But as his illness grew increasingly worse (and remained unmedicated), he spiraled
Jan 19, 2009 Peggy rated it it was ok
Shelves: recently-read
Boy this book could have used an editor. Although it was an interesting insider look at the newspaper business, Graham was repetitive in the way she described the trajectory of her life and that of her career, using too many specific instances and detail that did not always illuminate her point. More showing and less telling would have helped. As would have shaping the narrative into themes, rather than just giving us everything as it happened like some sort of chronological laundry list.
Nov 18, 2009 Mom rated it it was amazing
I loved this autobiography. I learned so much about the course of women's history in America by her tale of struggling to rise to her father's expectations, her relationship with her husband (who committed suicide), and her delicate handling of publisher of the Washington Post. Beautifully written.
Kathryn Bashaar
May 06, 2009 Kathryn Bashaar rated it really liked it
This book really held my interest from start to finish. Graham has great self-understanding and perspective on her life, and was very honest about her late husband's mental illness, the things that she both admired and resented about her parents, and her own insecurities as an untrained businesswoman in a world that was still completely dominated by men. As a woman in the business world, I completely identified with her. I especially loved the scene where she had to decide whether or not to prin ...more
Sep 24, 2011 Kim rated it really liked it
Personal History is the life story of Katharine Graham, whose family owns the Washington Post. She was the Publisher and President of the Washington Post Companies from the 60's through the 80's. The book is really divided into three sections. The first deals with her life before she became involved in the Washington Post. This is principally the story of her life growing up, and then with her husband of 20+ years. He dealt with Manic Depressive Disorder during much of his life and it eventually ...more
Andrew Walczak
Mar 23, 2013 Andrew Walczak rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book, and although it is no longer the "year of the biography/memoir", one of the best of the genre I have ever read. I first came across Katharine Graham when I read All the President's Men back in college. My wife maintains an extensive collection of biographies of accomplished women, and so remembering her part in Watergate, I gave this book a shot. The book describes her fairly eccentric and wealthy parents, and how they bought the Washington Post in 1937 (as almost an after thou ...more
This is interesting, especially the chapters concerning Katharine Graham having to take over running the Washington Post and the newspaper's role in publishing the Pentagon Papers and uncovering Watergate. I found the extended treatment of the unions' strike against the Post much less enthralling. Graham got to rub elbows with business titans, politicians, writers, entertainers and pop-culture phenoms, and her reflections provide a fascinating window on the times. But, she needs an editor. We do ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Carolyn rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
It seems obvious now, that the memoirs of the publisher of a newspaper based in Washington would be centred around politics, but it hadn't occurred to me that it would be quite so focussed on that. And not just politics, but presidential politics and the author's personal relationships with them. I was hoping the book would be more about the running of a newspaper, interesting stories, people and events the paper would have covered but in retrospect this book and Katharine Graham's personal expe ...more
Oct 25, 2009 Feral rated it really liked it
I read every word of this very long book and I think I'm glad I did. For one thing, Katharine Graham was in the inner circle of the inner circle of events that have defined my life, and I wanted to know the names of people, for instance, involved in Watergate just because I should. Now I don't remember them again, but for a brief shining moment I was an informed citizen. The book is brave and honest and in the constant name dropping, reveals an important take on the major players of the time. I ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Tracy rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at the wealthy and powerful in Washington DC, as well as Graham's own well-connected family in the Northeast. This is Washington of behind the scenes political bargaining (Kennedy and Johnson campaign), of powerful friends and their social events, and, of course, of Washington Post and Watergate. Graham fleshes out that famous chapter of Post history, as well as the difficulty she had in inheriting her position as publisher after her husband's suicide.

In some ways a pioneer, and
Nov 21, 2007 Cynthia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Bad editing. Well, really no editing. I guess that happens when you have a powerful author. Also, I guess a Puliter Prize also happens when you have a powerful author?! It's 600 repetitive pages of anecdotes about luncheons and weekends with famous people and passive aggressive knocks to everyone who mistreated her (in her mind). She had so much spin on reality she seemed to have lived in another world at times (like being a "pro-union" strikebreaker). For all of that being said, it was also int ...more
Jun 09, 2008 Alexis rated it it was amazing
Many people have mentioned this book to me, and I'm so glad that I picked it up. I didn't actually read the book, but I listened to the audio book, which was read by the author! I think it might have been abridged, but it was still an absolutely fascinating listen.

Katharine Graham is an intelligent and hard working woman who managed a national newspaper in a time when this was practically unheard of for a woman. She helmed the Post during an incredible time- through Watergate and the Pentagon Pa
This is a beautifully-written, inspirational biography. I especially appreciated Graham's first-hand perspective on her interactions with famous American leaders in the twentieth century.b
Dec 16, 2011 Christy rated it really liked it
An inspiring read. A must-read, I think. Katharine's story of coming into her own in taking over the Washington Post from her late husband in the 1960s, is a fascinating journey. It's both a personal story about one woman's life, and an interesting perspective on important events in American history. The parts about Watergate and the Post's union issues are riveting. With the exception of the last few chapters where it loses focus and drive, the book is well written and a great read. I read it o ...more
Mar 21, 2016 Drew rated it liked it
I find most autobiographies to be self-serving. This was not. If anything, Katharine Graham was probably hyper-critical of her performance as CEO of the Washington Post. While one could argue whether she was lucky or not, it is a fact that she delivered incredible value to shareholders of the Washington Post from the time they went public to her retirement. Additionally, two things really stood out for me in this book. First, her husband, Phil Graham, does not past the test of time. He looks lik ...more
Dec 07, 2015 Austin rated it liked it
This book was primarily valuable to me as a window into the inner workings of journalism, a view corroborated by a journalist who told me this is one of the seminal books on journalism, and that the history of the industry can be divided into two pre-Watergate and post-Watergate periods, becoming finally the "fourth pillar of government" we now appreciate it as. The chapters on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate are therefore especially important, and if you care less about Mrs. Graham's life sto ...more
Sophia Alexander
Nov 09, 2015 Sophia Alexander rated it it was amazing
I had the fortune of hearing Ms. Graham speak in 2000, shortly before her death. Her book reveals how even the greatest financial privilege did not guarantee equality or equivalency for women during much of her lifetime; she earned at least a semblance of it by combining her financial inheritance with intelligence, hard work, and perseverance over decades. Once she won a certain level of belief in herself, that experience gave her unique traits that enabled her to lead the Washington Post so wel ...more
Dec 19, 2014 Candy rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
This was a great book. Katharine Graham's life was very interesting, as were her parents' lives. The personal aspects of the book as well as the stories about her family and the Washington Post (the family newspaper) were fascinating and DC was the backdrop to the majority of it. Until I get my act together to write more of a review, here are some excerpts I enjoyed, for various reasons.

** p6-7 Stern Grove connection to the Meyers (K. Graham's family)

Like my father, Rosalie became a strong and
Richard Curry
Oct 12, 2014 Richard Curry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The copy I read had a preface by Henry Kissinger in front and an index in the back, so it might be useful as a reference book about certain people and events in 20th Century American history. She repeats mention of her extremely sheltered and privileged background, and divulges the difficult transition to being a housewife, and names names about her laundress ruining her monogrammed linens, and then on the same page chronicles how she herself accidentally incinerated baby bottle nipples on the k ...more
NC Weil
May 17, 2014 NC Weil rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, memoir
Katharine Graham had a front-row seat for some of the most riveting events of the mid-20th century, and she describes those experiences in clear honest prose. Her father Eugene Meyer bought The Washington Post in 1933, her husband Philip Graham ran it, during which time he was a confidante of President Kennedy, and after his suicide, she reluctantly took the reins as publisher.

She is candid about her position as the unglamorous and in many ways least worldly member of a wealthy socially-connect
Washington Post
Jul 09, 2013 Washington Post rated it it was amazing
The Post’s legendary publisher describes her family, her life and her experiences during the Watergate years.

“The lives of those of us who stay on in Washington change somewhat with a change of administrations, but our core friendships remain pretty much the same. There is a saying about relationships in Washington: ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’ Maybe because I’ve always lived here, because this is in a very real sense my hometown, I’ve found that not at all to be true.”
Sep 20, 2015 Kendall rated it it was amazing
Katharine Graham was a hell of a lady. Read this if you want a refresher of 20th century history from someone who covered it and helped make it, if you have an appreciation for a good piece of journalism, or if you want to know what it was like for a courageous female to be in a corporate leadership role decades before anyone had heard of leaning in.

"It's hard to remake decisions, and even harder to rethink nondecisions. Sometimes you don't really decide, you just move forward."
Aug 13, 2011 Scott rated it really liked it
The fascinating life of a fly on a wall who one day had to fly. Until she was middle aged, her own life was remarkable only through the remarkable people she touched: Presidents and power brokers. But then her own legacy was borne when she was "stuck" running the Washington Post. Great storytelling with an astonishing level of humility and honesty. A bonus for the DC readers who will learn lots of little nuggets of history about their community. Deserving of a Pulitzer.
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Katharine Meyer Graham was an American publisher. She led her family's newspaper, The Washington Post, for more than two decades, overseeing its most famous period, the Watergate coverage that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Her memoir, Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
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“But though he lacked the gift of intimacy, in many ways his supportive love still came through to me. He somehow conveyed his belief in me without ever articulating it, and that was the single most sustaining thing in my life.” 0 likes
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