Personal History by Katharine Graham

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Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

An extraordinarily frank, honest, and generous book by one of America's most famous and admired women, Personal History is, as its title suggests, a book composed of both personal memoir and history.

It is the story of Graham's parents: the multimillionaire father who left private business and government service to buy and restore the down-and-out Washington Post, and the formidable, self-absorbed mother who was more interested in her political and charity work, and her passionate friendships with men like Thomas Mann and Adlai Stevenson, than in her children.

It is the story of how The Washington Post struggled to succeed -- a fascinating and instructive business history as told from the inside (the paper has been run by Graham herself, her father, her husband, and now her son).

It is the story of Phil Graham -- Kay's brilliant, charismatic husband (he clerked for two Supreme Court justices) -- whose plunge into manic-depression, betrayal, and eventual suicide is movingly and charitably recounted.

Best of all, it is the story of Kay Graham herself. She was brought up in a family of great wealth, yet she learned and understood nothing about money. She is half-Jewish, yet -- incredibly -- remained unaware of it for many years.She describes herself as having been naive and awkward, yet intelligent and energetic. She married a man she worshipped, and he fascinated and educated her, and then, in his illness, turned from her and abused her. This destruction of her confidence and happiness is a drama in itself, followed by the even more intense drama of her new life as the head of a great newspaper and a great company, a famous (and even feared) woman in her own right. Hers is a life that came into its own with a vengeance -- a success story on every level.

Graham's book is populated with a cast of fascinating characters, from fifty years of presidents (and their wives), to Steichen, Brancusi, Felix Frankfurter, Warren Buffett (her great advisor and protector), Robert McNamara, George Schultz (her regular tennis partner), and, of course, the great names from the Post: Woodward, Bernstein, and Graham's editorpartner, Ben Bradlee. She writes of them, and of the most dramatic moments of her stewardship of the Post (including the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the pressmen's strike), with acuity, humor, and good judgment. Her book is about learning by doing, about growing and growing up, about Washington, and about a woman liberated by both circumstance and her own great strengths.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About Katharine Graham

See more books from this Author
Katharine Graham is fondly remembered as the powerful, longtime publisher of the Washington Post. She died in 2001.
Published February 9, 2011 by Vintage. 657 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics, History, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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It was an excruciating coming-of-age, because of her constant self-doubt and frankly poor management and because of the magnitude of the events played out on her watch--each revisited in reflective, defensive, parochial detail: the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the pressmen's strike, the company's ...

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Book Reporter

Contrast it to the smiling photo of Graham at her debut, or even her happy wedding photo, and it serves to illustrate the increasingly sad story that Graham outlines in painful pages that tell of her husband's metal breakdown, his intention to divorce her, and finally his suicide.

Jan 22 2011 | Read Full Review of Personal History

Entertainment Weekly

On the verge of her eighth decade, she looks back with a clear and discerning eye, cataloging her weaknesses — the years of kowtowing to her husband, her extreme self-doubt upon taking over the paper, her social awkwardness — even more than her strengths, which are myriad and self-evident.

Mar 07 1997 | Read Full Review of Personal History


Graham credit for being the first to describe journalism as "the first rough draft of history."

Aug 30 2010 | Read Full Review of Personal History

London Review of Books

It was Philip Graham who induced John Kennedy to choose Lyndon Johnson as his running-mate in 1960.

Mar 20 2008 | Read Full Review of Personal History

Ben Casnocha

I’ve written in the past that entrepreneurs should stop reading business books and instead should read traditionally non-business books to stretch their mind in other ways.

Jan 23 2006 | Read Full Review of Personal History

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Rebecca Kilbane

Rebecca Kilbane 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list