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City Room Hardcover – October 13, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Arthur Gelb knows the newspaper business. He began working at The New York Times in 1944 as a night copyboy; he retired 45 years later as the managing editor. In this absorbing memoir, he writes lovingly of the days when the sound of manual typewriters filled the air, spittoons were standard furniture, and two bookies worked the city room. Though much has changed, core elements of the paper's culture remain, particularly the intense competition which initially fueled his own curiosity and ambition. For instance, after being on the job for just a month, Gelb and two other copyboys started an in-house newsmagazine that allowed them to learn about the business and to interview everyone at the paper, from the publisher on down. He even used it to publicly request a promotion for himself. (It worked.) Gelb obviously loved working at the paper and his enthusiasm is apparent throughout, whether recalling the thrill of his first byline, describing how significant stories were covered, or discussing how they dealt with mistakes and errors in judgement. Loaded with anecdotes and fascinating gossip, his book is as much a history of second half of the twentieth century as it is a history of the Times. He writes about the colorful characters on the staff, of the many editorial battles, and of the significant cultural changes that took place at the paper as well as the in the country. "Can you imagine what it was like for an editor to arrive at work each morning, to look up from his desk at a sea of the most talented reporters in the newspaper world?" he writes. After reading this book, you can. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

"To me, there was nothing as stimulating as a good story," declares Gelb in this enthralling memoir of his 45 years at the New York Times. Gelb, who began as a copyboy in 1944 and retired as managing editor in 1990, has a wealth of terrific stories. An airplane's crash into the Empire State Building in July 1945 marked his professional reporting debut. Vivid recollections of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate break-in and the 1970 investigation of New York City police corruption abound, and Gelb's recounting of these events illustrates how reporters investigate and present complex news stories under deadline pressure while striving for accuracy, fairness and good taste. Later, as drama critic and cultural editor, Gelb mingled with glamour and celebrity. A witty raconteur, he tells uproarious anecdotes about Tallulah Bankhead and Marilyn Monroe. Although there are plenty of amazing scoops and delicious gossip, Gelb devotes equally passionate attention to the evolution of the Times as a workplace. His portrait of the city room circa 1944, with 100 all white and virtually all male reporters, is a fascinating historical snapshot and becomes more telling as he describes its changes over the years. By 1972, the department included 425 reporters, but only 40 of them were women. As a paean to his colleagues and the organization where he spent his "happiest days," Gelb naturally emphasizes high points, but he's frank about internal politics, the paper's uncharacteristic timidity in covering the Holocaust and its continuing struggle to diversify its staff. Addressing this year's Jayson Blair affair and the subsequent management changes at the paper, Gelb helps put those issues into a broader context with his balanced and sympathetic overview.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (October 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399150757
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399150753
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,564,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Once I started reading City Room, I had only one regret--that I had to get my customary quota of sleep. Every night, I was tempted to forget the clock, and enjoy more of Arthur Gelb's enthralling story about his lifelong love affair with The New York Times. Yet the book expands far beyond reliving the development of a writer and his newspaper. City Room reflects the emergence of the nation during some of America's most historic events. Plus, readers will enjoy the author's stories about celebrities he knew, interviewed, entertained, and wrote about.
City Room will mesmerize you. I expect to remain under Athur Gelb's spell for a long time.
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Format: Hardcover
City Room is a memoir of a person who loved his job and his city. Gelb traces his gradual ascent at the New York Times from ambitious copy boy to managing editor and corporate leader. He brings to this book wonderful stories of his love for the culture available in New York, especially the theatre, and the ways he worked to promote coverage of the arts.
The book is framed by two scandals; early coverage of the Holocaust in the immediate aftermath of World War II and most recently the implosion resulting from the journalistic sins of Jason Blair. In dealing with these problems and detailing the work on stories throughout his career as a reporter and editor, we see why and how the New York Times established itself as the newspaper of record for our times. It also chronicles the ups and downs of New York City and the Times' bond with the city.
For anyone interested in journalism or New York City, it is a delightful visit with a person on intimate terms with both.
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Format: Hardcover
It's great to see someone of Arthur Gelb's age and experience who has remained true to the very core of what reporting and journalism is all about -- keeping people informed. He outlines his rise from copy boy to managing editor of the Great Gray Lady, the New York Times, through some of the most turbulent years of the nation. He doesn't pull punches when describing some of his associates in those years, and I raised my eyebrows more than once at his descriptions of some of the giants of the Times. At times, his exhaustive attention to detail does bog the reader down, but he is peerless in his recollection and objectivity. He never hesitates to give credit where it is due, whether he liked the person or not. My one real criticism of this book is its complete absence of pictures. I would have liked to have seen a few of the people he so lovingly described, particularly those of his early years on the Times. But, like the paper he has devoted his life to, photos play a secondary role to the text. Definitely worth reading for anyone who wants to understand how the Times, and with it, the substantial portion of today's press, has grown and changed in the past 50 years.
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Format: Hardcover
Gelb's book isn't an attempt to describe the broad sweep of power at the top of The New York Times. For that you need Gay Talese's book, "The Kingdom and the Power".
Rather it's the story of the rise of a reporter to a key day-to-day editor from 1944 to the end of the century. Many will find the stories and descriptions of maneuvering at the Time dry. But his look at events of the world and how they shaped the newspaper is fascinating.
An example is when the newspaper initiates a luncheon with key newsmakers by hosting New York Police Commissioner Michael Murphy:
"He spoke about the difficulties of protecting President Kennedy on his visits to New York. The president, he said, liked to stop his motorcade to shake hands with admirers, who lined his route from the airport to Manhattan. It was a tremendous headache for the Police Department, and Murphy said he had personally warned Kennedy to change his habits, for he made an easy target for the unhinged.

"At that moment, the phone in the anteroom range and a waitress summoned Clifton Daniel. He returned to the dining room looking stunned and ashen. 'President Kennedy has just ben shot in Dallas.'"
There are momentous events. And there are the trivial (and gossipy ones). For example, early in the book he describes in detail the speakeasy run by the father of TV host Barbara Walters.
But overall, this is well worth the effort and will introduce some interesting historical details even for those very familiar with American history from the end of World War II to the end of the century.
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Format: Hardcover
It's great to see someone of Arthur Gelb's age and experience who has remained true to the very core of what reporting and journalism is all about -- keeping people informed. He outlines his rise from copy boy to managing editor of the Great Gray Lady, the New York Times, through some of the most turbulent years of the nation. He doesn't pull punches when describing some of his associates in those years, and I raised my eyebrows more than once at his descriptions of some of the giants of the Times. At times, his exhaustive attention to detail does bog the reader down, but he is peerless in his recollection and objectivity. He never hesitates to give credit where it is due, whether he liked the person or not. My one real criticism of this book is its complete absence of pictures. I would have liked to have seen a few of the people he so lovingly described, particularly those of his early years on the Times. But, like the paper he has devoted his life to, photos play a secondary role to the text. Definitely worth reading for anyone who wants to understand how the Times, and with it, the substantial portion of today's press, has grown and changed in the past 50 years.
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