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Pulitzer by James McGrath Morris
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Apr 27, 2010

really liked it
Read in April, 2010

Given last week’s awarding of the Pulitzer Prizes (congratulations New York Times and Washington Post), now seemed like a good time to look deeper into the life of the award’s namesake, Joseph Pulitzer.

We begin by pointing out that there has not been a complete biography published on the turn-of-the-century media scion in nearly forty years. That is, until the recent release of James McGrath Morris’ new book ‘Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power.’ (Harper). (A book, much like Walter Issakson’s ‘Einstein,’ that is at least partially the result of the discovery of a mass of new papers, in this case, discovered in the incestertial archives of Pulitzer’s late brother, Albert.)

In it, Morris (an award winning biographer and editor of the publication ‘The Biographer’s Craft’) covers the range of Pulitzer’s life from his arrival as a Jewish Hungarian immigrant to America in 1864, to his early days in St. Louis political circles to his 1878 purchase at auction of the St. Louis Evening Dispatch (which he later merged to form the region’s Post-Dispatch), his eventual move to and creation of a New York power-base with the New York World, to his ultimate untimely bout with blindness and an eventual lonely death.

Along the way, Morris details the vast influences on Pulitzer’s life, from the emergence of the industrial revolution, to his calls for political reform to his many run-ins with powerful political figures (even resulting in then President Teddy Roosevelt attempting to put Pulitzer in prison for his many anti-TR pontifications!) Eerily reminiscent of some of the media barons of today, Pulitzer was both an engaging activist and a sometimes pugnacious media lord (a precursor to the Murdochs and Turners of today’s media world) though his ultimate demise much more closely resembles the life of another tormented recluse, Howard Hughes.

Either way, young journalists or even the prize winners themselves, would be well served by Morris’ detailed account of a man who long ago forged the way for the Hearsts, Paleys, Luces and the other media moguls of the 20th century to do what they did in the name of journalist endeavor. And for all those who know little more than the name (much like, say, Alfred Nobel), ‘Pulitzer’ fills the gaps in an important piece of our domestic history.
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