Thursday, January 24, 2013
Review: Personal History
Katharine Graham deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography, Personal History. Graham lived a fascinating life, from her childhood of wealth and privilege, through her tumultuous marriage to Phil Graham that ended in his suicide, to her increasingly powerful role at the helm of the Washington Post Company.
Graham's father bought the Washington Post in 1933. Her husband ran it during their marriage. When she took over after his death, she had no real work experience, no concept of the magnitude of her new job, and little support from the male-dominated publishing industry.
Learning as she went, and making many mistakes along the way, Graham grew the Washington Post Company into a media powerhouse. Under her watch, the company went public, became famous -- or infamous -- for its coverage of the Watergate scandal, and broke the unions' stranglehold of the newspaper industry after a five-month strike.
Throughout these busy years, Graham also maintained a dizzying social and community life. She traveled extensively, held positions on several professional and academic boards, and hobnobbed with politicians and other prominent figures, including among her friends the likes of Truman Capote, Henry Kissinger, and Warren Buffett.
Her first-hand account is crisply written, unflinching, and honest, but always dignified. She discusses her family relationships and friendships, but without any intimate details. The focus most definitely is on her public and professional life, which makes it all the more interesting.
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I've been meaning to read Personal History for years and finally got around to it to complete the 2012 Chunkster Challenge.