Monday, October 24, 2005

Finished with Personal History

Finally, I finished Katharine Graham's Personal History today. It's been a long read, partly because of its small print and its 600+ page thickness, and partly because she peppered her memoirs with so many names that it was sometimes hard to keep things straight. But it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless.

What was amazing about the book as a whole was that it covered more than 70 years of personal history of Mrs. Graham. Substantially more if you include the biography of her mother and father, who are significant historical figures in themselves. It shows you what can unfold in a person's life in that span of time.

I would probably slice Mrs. Graham's autobiography into three phases. The first phase covered her childhood all the way up to young adulthood, ending with her marriage to Phil Graham. The second phase covers her life with Phil Graham, coincidentally starting along with second world war, and ending with Phil Graham's suicide in the early 60s. And the third phase covers her struggle to keep The Washington Post and other companies afloat.

I particularly liked her account of the development of the Watergate scandal as The Washington Post covered it. I also liked her narrative of The Washington Post strike in the mid-70's. These, of course, are found in the last third of the book. No doubt, there will be other versions of both stories, so I will be sure to track them down soon.

Seventy years is a long time, and Mrs. Graham covers it with great candor and skill. You can literally feel the change of time periods as you progress through the story, but this is an effect which she achieves with great subtlety. As I've said in a previous entry, it's a great mirror by which to gauge one's own life, though we can hardly aspire to the circumstances that Mrs. Graham found herself in.

The book was published in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. Sadly, Mrs. Graham passed away in 2001 when she slipped and hit her head. I would have wanted to send her a note to say how much I enjoyed her book.

So, who wants to borrow it next?