Books about journalism have always interested me, so I couldn’t resist this rather tattered copy of Katharine Graham’s autobiography when I saw it for $8 at a local flea market.
Graham, the legendary publisher of the Washington Post, won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for this book, which is a fascinating insight into the world of American journalism, Washington high society and the rich and powerful.
It’s quite a tome, and I’ve been at it since before Christmas – with a break for some lighter fare along the way – but it’s a great read. As well as the parts about journalism, Graham gives a look into a world that no longer exists (or maybe it does, but I don’t know it). As a young woman in the 1930s and ’40s, she took a back seat to her husband Phil, who took over the Post from her father (who owned it). After his death, she was thrust into the publisher’s role and pulls no punches in telling of her struggle to adapt to the position and to working with newspapermen.
That she did it with great dignity is part of history. She had firm ideas about the role of the media; ideas perhaps considered old-fashioned today, but certainly still entrenched as late as the 1970s and early ’80s.
Katharine Graham is synonymous with Watergate, and the book cover is a shot of her with reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. American politics plays a big part in the book, as the Grahams were friends with presidents and power-brokers, including the Kennedy clan.
The book was written in 1997, when Katharine (always known as Kay) Graham was 80. It is full of reflections, on the role of the media, the status of women and how it has changed, and life in general. Despite her wealth, Graham did not always have an easy life and she holds little back.
I’m not quite finished reading it, but I thought it was time to write about what I’m reading right now. If you can find this book, you are assured of a great read.
Personal History, by Katharine Graham, Phoenix Press, 1997.