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The Powers That Be

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  902 ratings  ·  61 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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Christopher Saunders
David Halberstam's The Powers That Be chronicles how America's leading media companies shape public opinion, and in particular their fraught relationship with politicians. The book focuses on Henry Luce, the founder of Time/Life whose missionary zeal on his pet issues often overwhelms objectivity; CBS's various producers (Frank Stanton, Fred Friendly) and personalities (Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite) who argue about the line between entertainment and information; the Chandlers, who turned th ...more
Brian
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 h
...more
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 t ...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 h
...more
Karen
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 espec
...more
Horza
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, becomi
...more
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
...more
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 Was
...more
Arnold
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
Dominik
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 we ...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 empl ...more
Dave
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 wi
...more
Brian
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.
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. ...more
Josh
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
...more
Len Knighton
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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 the
...more
Joseph Sciuto
Mar 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
David Halberstam, "The Powers That Be," might very well be the best structured, conceived, multi-layered historical novel I have ever read. There are enough climaxes and fascinating individuals for at least ten movies.

Mr. Halberstam weaves four entities, CBS, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, into an enthralling narrative of how the media influences politics, and how politicians influence the media.

The climaxes involve the coverage of World War II, The Vietnam war,
...more
Robert E.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This work reminds me how much we miss David Halberstam. This has been one of my "on the plane/on the road" books for quite a while ... reading a few pages here and there before nodding off in the hotel room. It took me a while to get through it, but it was easy to pick up where we left off because of the style and structure of the work (for the most part).

If you've read any of Halberstam's work (Summer of '49), this is familiar territory. His style is evident immediately. He had a commanding gr
...more
Mike Thomas
Mar 31, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was an exceptionally irresponsible and shitty Halberstam book about the unification of the media and political ruling class in the 20th century. Halberstam is not all bad but his mythologizing and "objective lense" sensibilities made him uniquely limp dick at best and dangerous at worst for tackling this topic. The last 20% threatened to salvage the whole deal as the coverage of Woodward/Bernstein/Nixon felt probably the most tonally appropriate, but everything that came before it was too a ...more
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.
...more
SL
Oct 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Got up to page 160 but I'm giving up on this. Halberstam is a really good writer and tells wonderfully real and funny stories, but I am not convinced that this book is one that I need to read in 2020... quite frankly, these (his subjects in this book e.g. the Washington Post, the LA Times, CBS, Time-Life Inc., etc) are no longer the "powers that be" in the internet era. ...more
Mason Wartman
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent

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.
Sharon Bodnar
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Finally! It was. 900+ page slog through the history of American media through the mid 70’s. I won’t remember half of it, but found the Watergate era the most fascinating (n Nixon was pretty, vindictive, and vengeful (what is it with some Republican Presidents?

Bob Kuster
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really good read. What Robert Caro is to the LBJ biography, David Halberstam is to any subject he writes about. It is a shame Caro could not have written a follow up to The Powers That Be. His writing on the media's pursuit of the Watergate story was pretty intense. ...more
Larry
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 pres ...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 Bo ...more
Bob
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 pick if you
...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 a ...more
Liz
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 an
...more
Lawrence
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.
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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 Dai
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