Lauren's Reviews > Personal History

Personal History by Katharine Graham
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's review
Nov 07, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: biography

I picked this book up at my local second-hand shop. I'm not a huge autobiography reader, but as a former reporter, I was intrigued by the fact that this told the story of pioneering woman in the newspaper business. I was of course familiar with Watergate, but not with the Meyer/Graham family, so most of the material was very fresh to me. The story of her parents early days in California and New York is very unique and yet so universal to the American experience. The story of how her father came to own the Washington Post mixes with the story of the other first families of newspapers, the Medill/McCormick/Pattersons.
The first half of the book is mainly the story of her father, her mother and her husband, and is told at more of a remove, caught up in the details of the early Washington Post struggle as a local paper against Cissy Patterson's Times-Herald and the other area papers. It gets a little dry as she talks about how her husband, Phil Graham ran the paper editorially and on the business side, but once the era moves into the 1960s, and she begins to the tell the story fully from her perspective, the book really becomes absorbing. From her husband's struggle with mental disease, to his terrible suicide and her decision, not to sell the paper, but to take up the mantel for her family, she writes with great honesty and illustrates and time in the 1960s and 70s that defined great journalism and influenced an entire generation in politics and business. My favorite passage is the story of the Black and White Ball thrown for her by Truman Capote at the Plaza. But I was also wrapped up in the detail she gave to the Pentagon Papers case and the inside story of the Watergate scandal.
I was also struck by themes that are just as relevant today as they were back in her time, as well as some of the ironies. As the newspaper business dies today, her story is that of succeeding and changing the course of the industry. Her best friend, Warren Buffet, played an immense role in her later life and still makes headlines today. She write about the struggle to improve Newsweek, and even today Tina Brown is having a similar struggle with the newsweekly. There are so many parallels that one can draw to today from this book, even politically.
Overall, Kay Graham's story is one of personal triumph, but I can't help but feel a little sad at the state of her industry today and wonder what she would have thought or done about the decline of the newspaper.

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Reading Progress

November 7, 2011 – Started Reading
November 7, 2011 – Shelved
November 7, 2011 –
page 504
78.5% "In the aftermath of Watergate and "All The Presidents Men"."
November 15, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 19, 2012 – Shelved as: biography

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Lauren Page 372-375: travels to Asia with Post and Newsweek editors. Meets the emperor and empress of Japan (373), then travels to Vietnam.

Lauren Page 377-379: Sails with Truman Capote and Marella Agnelli, Adlai Stevenson dies in London.

Lauren Page 391-395: Truman Capote throws the Black and White Ball for her at the Plaza. Graham wears a Balmain dress from Bergdorf Goodman with matching mask by Halston.

Lauren Page 416-430: her evolvement concerning women's issues and the women's movement. Friendship with Gloria Steinem. The Gridiron Club protest.

Lauren Page 444-459: The Pentagon Papers.

Lauren Page 460-: Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein, caught in a ringer quote by John Mitchell (465). Retaliation by the Nixon administration via tv license challenges.

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