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?


  1. Phil Graham's suicide. Was it because of that smidgen of scandal involving the Washington Post? When they released their paper earlier than the rest, announcing that MacArthur won the Presidential Election when in fact it was Harry S. Truman?

    I've actually never heard of Katherine Graham, though her name sounds familiar. Only when you wrote that she actually ran the Washington Post did I make the connection.

    Did you know that Sidney Sheldon wrote a character who was partially based on her? I think the book was called the Best Laid Plans.

  2. The story, as far as I know it, is that Phil Graham committed suicide because of his manic-depression and scandal arising from his scandalous affair with a Newsweek reporter. He was planning to divorce Katharine Graham and buy controlling shares of The Washington Post, but changed his mind just prior to his death.

    Of course, suicides and mysterious deaths are always fodder for speculation about conspiracy. So some sources say he was killed because he was causing embarrassment to the Kennedy administration. We never know.

    I prefer the more prosaic explanation, though. Want to borrow the book?

  3. i just finished a biography of marilyn monrow, and i think i'm on a nonfiction streak. can i borrow?

  4. I need this book (Graham's Personal History) for my class... where can I get a copy of this?

  5. Hi, Naj: Where are you based? I gave my copy away to Ian Casocot.