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Personal History

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  18,822 ratings  ·  1,108 reviews
In lieu of an unrevealing Famous-People-I-Have-Known autobiography, the owner of the Washington Post has chosen to be remarkably candid about the insecurities prompted by remote parents and a difficult marriage to the charismatic, manic-depressive Phil Graham, who ran the newspaper her father acquired. Katharine's account of her years as subservient daughter and wife is so ...more
Paperback, 642 pages
Published February 24th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  18,822 ratings  ·  1,108 reviews


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Jonathan Eng
Feb 05, 2014 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 ...more
Mollie
Dec 05, 2007 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
Coco
Apr 04, 2009 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
...more
Connie G
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Katharine Meyer Graham's autobiography takes us from her childhood as the daughter of a successful businessman to being the powerful woman at the head of the Washington Post. Katharine Meyer and her siblings were mainly raised by their nursemaid and governess as young children. Their mother was an eccentric writer and artist, and their father owned the Washington Post. After Katharine's college years, she did some writing for the Post. She married Phil Graham, a brilliant, charismatic young ...more
Amanda
Sep 17, 2008 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
...more
Sherri
May 14, 2013 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
...more
Dale Leopold
May 19, 2013 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
...more
Lesley
Jun 12, 2009 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
...more
Joni Daniels
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when it first came out and it is still one of my favorites. Her honest telling of going from a life of privilege and wealth (when she went to college she had no idea how to do laundry - her sweaters always had magically appeared in her drawer!) to falling in love with the brilliant Phil (who she learned too late was mentally unstable) to hosting the powerful elite in DC to running her father’s company to facing down the White House (twice — the Pentagon Papers and Watergate). ...more
Peggy
Jan 07, 2009 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.
Mom
Nov 18, 2009 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.
Alexw
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A tremendously strong willed woman who stared down and won her battles with the men of her era as she ran one of the best papers in the world.
Kathryn Bashaar
Apr 20, 2009 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 ...more
Thomas
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, favorites
One of the best biographies (in this case, autobiographies) ever written. Seriously.
Dean
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Truly one of my all time top five books ever read. LOVED the story, the life and the writing immensely.
Marguerite
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 ...more
Kristen
Feb 19, 2008 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
...more
Aaron Million
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
What an impressive, yet beleaguered, lady! That is the impression that I came away with after reading Katharine Graham's autobiography. This is someone who had to pick up the broken pieces after her husband committed suicide. This is someone who, despite being wealthy, had to prove herself in a male-dominated industry at a time when females were seldom if ever heads of corporations. She not only proved herself; she did a superb job of running a major national newspaper and became one of the ...more
Ary Chest
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
I feel bad giving this a low rating, especially since it's an important part of history. At least, it should be. Why I don't think this book is the go-to piece of literature on the Watergate scandal lies in my main complaint, so I'll jump to it.

The part about Watergate wasn't nearly as descriptive as her childhood, personal issues, or how much money her family had. The title of this book is very fitting...too fitting.

Instead of many pages devoted to her managerial style of the paper, and other
...more
Sandra Fish
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, this book had been on my shelves for > 20 years and i'm glad i finally got around to it. When she says "Personal History," Kay Graham apparently meant all of it, tho she's from a generation that apparently only hints at the most personal (apparent liaisons with Adlai Stephenson, Warren Buffett and others. Sometimes this book drags a bit.

But it's important to get the perspective of a woman who grew up in great privilege, well-educated yet believing that her role is one of helpmate to her
...more
Jen
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a re-read for me and I enjoyed it much more this time around. I think just because I have more life under my belt than when I read it when it was released. I enjoyed Graham's discussions of being a woman in a mans world at a time when there were no women in any powerful business positions. I also found her discussions of how the press had to learn to cover McCarthy and Nixon fascinating in light of trying to cope with and cover Trump. For a thick and meaty bio this was very readable.
Patrick Hackett
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perhaps because I live in Washington or perhaps because there are a lot of parallels between this administration's relationship with the press and previous administration's relationship with the press, but this book truly stood the test of time for me.

While I winced at Graham's attitude towards feminism and the role of women in the workplace, I found her concise delivery and her ability to capture the events and the emotions of the times that her autobiography covers remarkable. Do I think
...more
Carolyn
Dec 26, 2014 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 ...more
Charlie
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book pretty much slayed me...so many angles. I got turned on to the book as a result of seeing the movie The Post, which somehow led me to the website for Graham Holding Company which has a history tab that included many things I never new, which led me to quote from Warren Buffett where he said Personal History is the best autobiography he ever read. BTW - pretty much the entire movie The Post came out of Chapter 22 of this book, a book with 28 chapters. This is a long book, and took me ...more
Andrew Walczak
Mar 23, 2013 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 ...more
Joyce
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
An excellent account of an important life - though it was painful to read how such a competent, wise and energetic woman doubted her ability and her right to her own opinions, decisions about her family, and her money for so long. She always managed to reconcile herself to the decisions made by her father, her husband, and the rest of the male power structure until fairly late in her life.
I found it sad and somewhat shocking that Phil Graham lived in a time when he could not get adequate
...more
Alexis
Jun 06, 2008 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
...more
Geo Forman
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
While I wanted to hear her story, I fully expected to be bored by this book. I'm not generally a fan of memoirs. I was pleasantly surprised to have my interest level maintained from start to finish.
Kay candidly acknowledges her very privileged life but I still found mysel rolling my eyes when she mentions how busy her life became as children arrived on the scene. She had a nanny and a cook to help. Her comments sounded too much like complaining to me. Nonetheless, she did not try to coverup any
...more
Gary
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am so glad that she told her own story....certainly more personal.....and so interesting. I look forward to seeing the movie this upcoming weekend with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, two of my favorites. I lived through the Vietnam War and Watergate,and it was brought even more alive for me in this book!! I learned even more.......and yes...much of the crap that went on with Nixon is going on now with Trump........I think Katharine would be horrified if she were alive in 2018.....however, I also ...more
Sean Henry
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such a great read! Katherine was such a huge force of change in multiple areas; civil rights, political issues, and business. She did so much in her life and is truly an amazing inspiration to anyone looking to live a full life. No matter the obstacles placed in front of Katherine, she faced each of them with perseverance and creativity and never stopped trying to do what was right for everyone around her. Absolutely a must read.
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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.
“The nicest thing you did was to take me seriously when a lot of people wouldn’t have, but not too seriously, which was just right.” 4 likes
“What the president never accepted, or even clearly understood – as most people don't understand – is the autonomy editors have, and must have, to produce a good newspaper. I used to describe it as liberty, not license.” 2 likes
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