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The Powers That Be

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  845 ratings  ·  54 reviews
A description and analysis of the media of the time and their effect on politics, events, and the public at large. It focuses particularly on the CBS network, Time Incorporated, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Along with the media, the discussion covers the people who own and operate the media, particularly these media.
Paperback, 792 pages
Published October 19th 2000 by University of Illinois Press (first published 1979)
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This week, I finished two books that both merit extremely high praise. One is Andrew Bacevich's most recent study of America's ineptitude at trying to subdue the Greater Middle East, and the second is this book by David Halberstam.

Halberstam's premature death from a car accident in 2007 marked a great loss for American journalism, and thus, I would argue, for America itself. Why did it not cause a greater uproar than it did? Nevertheless, he left behind a monumental library of books analyzing
Aaron Million
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
David Halberstam was an excellent and astute writer. Having read several of his books, I had high expectations for this one and I was not disappointed. This time around, he tackles the (way too important) role of the major media outlets and how they can and do influence the attitudes of their readers/viewers. One thing to note, and this is certainly not a criticism of Halberstam, is that this book (written in 1979) is now quite dated. It was re-released in 2000, and he provided an introduction ...more
Brian Eshleman
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the story of how media shapes message, not in dry theory but through the individuals involved in developing and using the technology in the mid-20th-century. David Halberstam holds interest consistently for over 1000 pages as he traces mainstream American culture through more than 30 years, showing expertly how points of progress also come with their own problems.

Even though the media landscape is vastly different than the one he leaves in the early 80s, tracing the trends with
Halberstam finished The Powers That Be in 1979, just as its subjects; CBS, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and the LA Times were about to begin their inexorable decline.

He captures some of these factors, particularly the shift away from family ownership to listed, profit-centred companies, and the political backlash (largely from the Right) as television and investigative reporting both increased Presidential power while simultaneously replacing traditional party politics,
Lee Ann
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wow
Having already read David Halberstam's The Summer of '49 and the Teammates, I knew I already liked him as an author. But those two books are non-fiction works about baseball, a sport I dearly love; and The Powers That Be is about the media and how it changed American politics and society. The media is not something I know much about to begin with, so it was daunting to pick-up this 736-pager.

Why read this non-fiction monstrosity (I say "monstrosity" because the hardcover version also features a
Neal Karlen
Apr 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Combining diligent over-reported detail and comically overwrought prose, David Halberstam proves once again that his brilliance lay in the deadline newspaper article or Harper's thumb-sucker. And that is no disrespect, I wish my brilliance lay somewhere, ANYWHERE!
But Halberstam's portentious pronouncements on the meaning of EVERYTHING results in prose so turgidly purple that it is a distraction from the real feat of journalism he has pulled off.
His coverage of the rises and falls of CBS, the
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: communications
The Pulitzer Prize winning and Harvard education (in journalism) writer who exposes in this book the media barons who changed the face and perception of the United States forever. Luce, Paley, the Grahams and the Chandlers. before Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch the stage had been set for what we now face where the media controls and alters the world and the way we live. A serious must read not for all of us but particularly for those who work in the media
A fascinating look at the history of media and politics in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Not particularly well structured -- the book drops the reader into the narrative and doesn't do much in the way of framing or explanation. Even the sections are blandly labeled "I, II, II, IV" with no unifying theme. The book is incredibly detailed and meticulous in its history -- many, many names are referenced (some with little or no introduction, leading me to Wikipedia the names to figure out who these folks ...more
Will Lashley
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
A book so throughly of its time that it is bound to feel dated now, when it was first published it opened up the story of America's most powerful media barons, their families and the empires they built: Henry and Clare Booth Luce (Time Life), Bill and Babe Paley (CBS), Norman and Dorothy Chandler and their son Otis (Times Mirror Company), and Phil and Katherine Graham (Washington Post). Add to that Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Iphigene Ochs of the New York Times, the author David Halberstam's ...more
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Though dated a bit, I still believe this is a great book. Halberstam gives a great insight on how the evolution of television effected politics in general and the power of the executive branch specifically. He also showed the effect it had on print journalism. You can see how the linear evolvement of print, television and the internet has come to dominate politics, both for the good and to it's detriment.
The media today has such great power because of what happened then. Halberstam has a way
Hank Stuever
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I really knew about media and media ownership as a college freshman was next to nil, but, luckily, this was assigned reading in Father Schroth's Intro to Mass Communications class. Several light bulbs turned on at once that semester, I recall.
Mar 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Halberstam is a fine writer. Or should I say, his research assistants know their ways around good stories. At any rate, an imperfect but enjoyable story that is mostly accurate and makes for a good read.
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating and detailed dive into the rise of the modern media empire, as personified by Luce's Time, Paley's CBS, The Graham's Washington Post, and The Chandler's Times-Mirror. Halberstam builds the narrative of the rise of these media giants around the families and personalities that dominated their early rise to prominence and control, using them as case studies for how the media reported, controlled, and increasingly drove the news narrative and became staggeringly wealthy.

He begins the
Len Knighton
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THE POWERS THAT BE by David Halberstam

David Halberstam is at his best in this wonderful look back at the personalities and media institutions that molded the world we live in and the times that brought out their genius.

The Washington Post, Time, and CBS were certainly oft seen in my home growing up. My dad subscribed to Time, bought The Post when available in Lebanon County, PA, and watched Cronkite every evening. We did not see the LA TIMES. What I learned through Halberstam was that when
Jane Thompson
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
News Story

An exceedingly good book y this one tells how we got our news from WW2 till Watergate with all the d etails. I appreciated the author telling me about Phil Graham since I had heard of him all my life but really did not know the story. And during the Vietnam War I didn't have a tv. So I learned a lot.
Mason Wartman
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I loved the writing style. A must read for anyone interest in the structure of media and government in America. Incites abound in this volume and are made clearer with the benefit and distance of time.
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another classic by Halberstam, this one focusing on the power and influence of the American media, specifically The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Washington Post and CBS, specifically these media's influence over American politics and policies. As in his other works, Halberstam writes in rich detail that bring his characters to life--from titans like Harry Luce of Time to working reporters. This book begins in the 1950s and concludes in the 1970s.

I found myself
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took 3 renewals but I read every freaking page of this tome that shows & tells pretty much everything you needed to know about the affect of MASS MEDIA on the public, long ago when America was Great. Profiles of a handful of tech titans who invented whole new industries & stage-managed popular understanding of "The American Century."

Much has changed since then. Jill Abamson claims to have modeled her cri de coeur "Merchants of Truth" on "The Powers That Be." Truly a great model to
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
David Halberstam is a journalist's journalist. Using striking biographical sketches of the very important persons and their assorted minions at the hearts and souls of CBS, (William Paley, Frank Stanton, Jim Aubrey, Edward R. Murrow), Time/Life, (Harry Luce), Washington Post, (Phil and Katherine Graham), LA Times, (The Chandlers), and New York Times, (William Ochs "Punch" Salzburger) he paints a shocking picture in words of the mass hypnosis that major media brings with it. He describes our ...more
Vikas Datta
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very richly-detailed and engrossing history of major American media outlets in the middle of the last century - from the rise of Roosevelt (FDR) to the fall of Nixon - and its influence on on society and politics and vice versa... Packed with corporate bosses, publishers, top editors and journalists to various politicians who used the media and some who were exposed by it including legends like Bill Paley, Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite of CBS, the Mayers and Grahams, Ben Bradlee and of course ...more
Tom Gase
Jun 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really liked this book by one of the greatest writers of all time. I was a little skeptical of it at first because its the biggest Halberstam book in size (736 pages) but it actually went by pretty fast for a book of that size. The Powers That Be is about the history of journalism told through the Washington Post, LA Times, New York Times, Time Inc. and CBS. A lot of good stuff here on people such as Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Harry Luce, Dan Rather, the Chandlers, Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I wanted to read when it came out but somehow I never found a copy to read. Earlier this year I read Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and was amazed. I am especially enjoying the chapters on the Washington Post; since I worked there and have read nearly every book that's come out on the paper I thought I knew most everything about it but there are new stories here. Halberstam collected great stories.
As a Watergate freak, I thought I'd heard all the stories about Woodward
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing

I really enjoyed seeing how accidentally some of the great institutions of the media were created and evolved. So much depended on the strength of personality of key people at key times. Events often drove the people but more often the people drove the events. The end result is so dependent on some key people being able to have a basic vision that gets changed many times along the way.
Joel Adams
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
// Masterful. Simply stunning in its research and its powerful argument -- that American media changed both America and American power and the presidency. Published in 1979 - it is a highly recommended read for the current 2016 election cycle. More than this it is beautifully written. So yeah // really liked it.
Michael Connolly
A well-written history of several American news companies: the Washington Post, CBS News, Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Lots of anecdotes, mainly about the founders and management. Remarkably little dirt. The leaders of journalism were competitive, but they were not corrupt. Written during the 1970s, when the Watergate scandal made us see journalists as heroes.
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent telling of the story of the powerful and influential publications and publishers in American journalism. Speaking as one who was a journalism major for both my bachelor's and master's degrees, this book should be a textbook in a journalism history course in every journalism school in the country.
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf-history
This book is pretty dated now, but when I read it had quite the impact. It really gives one a broad perspective of how the media works and how those specific outlets became the powerhouses they were at the time. It's too bad we lost David. I've love to read his perceptions of our new media madness.
Ian Divertie
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Makes it clear our news media is conservative and not liberal as we often think. Its also a private business, so that which is reported is what the owners want us to hear, not necessarily what the government wants. Individual reporters can be problematic for conservative owners but ultimately its the owners that are in control.
Nov 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
When David Halberstam was killed while riding a bike I felt as if I'd lost a friend. I am not an English teacher or a writer. I only know when I enjoy a good book the writer becomes my friend. Telling a story whether it be fiction or nonfiction is all in the talent of the writer. I am loyal to certain writers. In my unprofessional opinion no one did it better than David Halberstam.
Sep 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
halberstam's access to the behind the scenes action in major american media in from the 50s through the 70s offers an enormous amount of truly enlightening insight into how the media actually operates and grants perspective into the enormous amount of power it wields. as always, halberstam writes well.
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David Halberstam was an American journalist and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the
“You could never prove innocence, not in the match with the man who only had to imply guilt.” 2 likes
“she had no fear of the spotlight, only of the places it did not reach.” 2 likes
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