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on February 24, 2010
I was deeply absorbed by this book. It is a revealing portrait of a talented and troubled man, a newspaper journalist who succeeded, whose ambition ate at him, and who retained a touching humanity perhaps half of his time at the top. He ultimately fell victim, both to unlucky timing and to the blindness that can come with ambition.

My views are subjective. I knew Gerald Boyd. I am one of many hundreds of journalists who worked with him and, in my case, had him as a boss when he was the editor of Metro section of the New York Times, where I was a reporter. I thought he was an uneven leader. He could be insightful, intimidating, charming, instructive, rudely dismissive, and also a bestower of tough love. His positive attributes rained on me when I was in favor with more senior editors, and his negatives came when I stumbled. I was not one of his favorite reporters, but I had my moments. I was in the middling crowd, those who needed better guidance from him. And yet the limited guidance he did give, when he spoke honestly and even tenderly to me, was among the most effective I ever got.

His personal story is remarkable. It is one thing to hear vaguely, as we all did on the Metro desk, that he was raised poor in East St. Louis. It is quite another to read about what it was like to go to his mother's funeral at age 3, to go hungry, to use his smarts and charm, leavened by his innate caution and fear, to see chances and make the most of them.

Race is a steadily undulating theme in this book. Boyd describes his growing consciousness, as a child, of black and white worlds of St. Louis. His militant episodes at college, when he changed his name to "Uganda X" are a comic backdrop for his constructive activism there. His entry to the NYT and the racism he endured there is arresting. Editors look at his clips and ask, "Did you really write these yourself?" When he prepares for a new assignment, editors ask: "Do you think you can handle this?"

Boyd was not a great writer. This book is direct, almost workmanlike in places. It doesn't matter. It's a strong story. How he made it through school, to a newspaper, through college, to covering Washington, to succeeding in the NYT newsroom - it's a compelling tale. The holes and shortcomings are revealing. He admits having difficulty trusting anyone, but wonders why he has few friends. He torches wife #2 for dragging him to couples therapy, but later acknowledges how essential therapy was for his maturity and judgment.

The real juice, for those of us who care about the Times, comes in the section of the book covering his rise to the top during the Howell Raines era. For all Boyd's talent and smarts, for all his ability to navigate politically choppy waters, for all his relentless determination to succeed, he is at last hobbled by his ambition and defensiveness. When Raines names Boyd to be managing editor, effectively number two in the newsroom, it seems a crowning achievement. But it is virtually an impossible job. Raines emerges as a megalomaniac, and Boyd can only go along as Raines's psychotic schemes inevitably bleed the paper's correspondents and desk editors, undercutting their integrity and morale. It's painful to read Boyd's descriptions of trying, and failing, to provide any balance to Raines's autocratic mismanagement. When the Jason Blair incident unfolds, it opens up the cauldron of resentment among the NYT staff, and Boyd reveals a sorry lack of understanding of why the revolution came. Boyd professes to believe in the Raines mission to heighten the paper's "metabolism", but it's clear that Boyd's own advancement was so identified with it that he had no useful perspective on its glaring failures. Even though he himself chronicles Raines's shortfalls as an editor and leader, he is surprised that his reporters and editors are all so angry. Boyd becomes collateral damage, and doesn't get why no one speaks up to defend him.

Like many victims, Boyd cannot see the reality and instead identifies villains responsible for conspiring against him, Joe Lelyveld, Bill Keller, Jon Landman. His accusations against them ring hollow. It is deeply sad, after his telling and sensitive descriptions of the racism he endured throughout his life, when he lapses into a simplistic citing of racism as the cause of his fall. It is even more sad, after his devastating loss of his job and his sense of identity, when he finds partial solace in his wife and their young son, only to be diagnosed with lung cancer and to quickly succumb to it.

His wife, Robin Stone, says that she edited two unfinished manuscripts together, after Boyd died. I feel grateful to her, for not letting them sit unfinished, and for doing such a good job at editing, making them read as one coherent whole. Stone's afterward, where she describes some of her grief, is very moving. After I put the book down I tried to imagine what it might be like for Boyd's young son to read it once he has grown up. And I also wondered about all those others who worked with Boyd and who, like me, enjoyed his tenderness, endured his limitations, and admired his life.
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VINE VOICEon September 20, 2010
When Gerald Boyd was a young boy in St. Louis, Missouri, he helped a neighbor boy sell the New York Times on Sundays. How fitting that he would come full circle ascending to the position as managing editor, second-in-command at the most prestigious newspaper in the country. He tells his story in My Times in Black and White: Race and Power at the New York Times.

Boyd grew up poor, motherless and by the time he was 11 years old, his father had abandoned him and his brother, Gary, while his sister moved to California with an aunt. His beloved grandmother, Evie, did all she could for Gerald, Gary and their two cousins but the sting of poverty was ever present. Rice was a staple and he got used to holes in his shoes and not getting any real toys for Christmas. In high school, he was a good student and joined the school newspaper in high school. He set his sights on a career in journalism after completing a summer program at a college between his junior and senior year--- and the New York Times was the prize he pursued. He received a scholarship to the University of Missouri and an internship with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was on his way to being a newspaperman.

Discouraged by the rampant racism on campus, Boyd got involved with the Legion of Black Collegians and started a black newspaper, Blackout. He was drawn to politics, and majored in both journalism and political science, ran for student office and staged protests against racism. He also met the woman he would marry after college graduation, Sheila Rule, also a journalism major. They settled down as reporters at the Post-Dispatch after graduation with his eyes on the prize--the New York Times. He was ambitious and moved up in rank, covering City Hall but along the way his marriage failed. He thought happiness eluded him and suffered from depression, fearing his desire for a true family life eluded him. He secured a journalism fellowship at Harvard, was courted by other papers and soon the Times came calling.

Did you ever want something so bad, you could taste it? As the saying goes, be careful of what you ask for. It was a ultimate dream come true; he was both a reporter and editor at the greatest newspaper, in the greatest city in the world. He worked in the Washington bureau in D.C. and as a White House correspondent under Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. He soon set his sights on management and was engulfed in the politics of hierarchy, class and rank at the Times. This was the 80s and 90s and the Times, like other leading institutions were slow about bringing minorities into the management. Boyd had to prove himself over and over, attempting to erase his colleagues' doubts of his ability to lead, but finally he became the number two man as managing editor of the New York Times in 2001. Soon after he met and married Robin D. Stone, a young journalist at the Times (his third marriage) and he found the balance needed to right his life.

Through it all Boyd withstood his challenges head on; he never shied away from being black, but wanted to be seen as a journalist first, but sometimes he was conflicted. He and Robin were active in the National Association of Black Journalists and mentored young, budding journalists. He and his team won several Pulitzer awards on his watch; he had a beautiful home, and the family he craved. But it was the dawn before the storm. In 2003, trouble came in the form of a disturbed young black reporter, Jayson Blair, who plagiarized stories and falsified reports. And guess who "they" pointed the finger at?

This was an excellent treatise on the journalism profession; an insider's view of politics, race, and power which made strange bedfellows. This field is not for the weak; one must be relentless, tenacious and ever watching your back. Alliances were made and broken based on loyalties, on who was your mentor, to what J school you attended. Gerald Boyd contracted lung cancer and worked on this book until his death in November of 2006. His wife, Robin, saw the book through publication, a gift to their son, Zachary, and wrote the afterword in tribute to her late husband, a man who died too young but with dignity. I recommend this book to readers who are interested in the journalism field and politics, scholars of race relations and those who came of age in the era of black power and equal rights.

The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Dera R. Williams
APOOO BookClub
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on July 2, 2010
I met Robin Stone at Warmdaddy's in Philadelphia during her book signing. I knew little about the book, little about the man the book features, and nothing about her. I hurriedly had her sign my book and we shared a few words where I promised I'd write a review on Amazon.com. Here it is Robin...

I was so caught up in the story from cover to cover. Early on it was the typical Black American family saga of moving from the south seeking work in the north and making the necessary adjustments to survive. Reading how and why Gerald Boyd was raised by grandmom who provided just enough for him to become his own man could almost be considered everyday Black American folklore.

The story started to engage me as Boyd detailed his college years and how he developed his passion for writing. As he took his first job it was obvious that he was a man that would not settle for a small role in anything he did and was stimulated by challenges.

Those challenges came very early in his career along with opportunities to demonstrate his willingness to work hard and produce stellar results with the best of them. He openly shares the personal side of his life of how he struggled with relationships but he never let it affect his career which appeared to be his greatest love.

Once Boyd joins the New York Times and particularly when he takes on management responsibilities he presents a clear picture of how office politics, ego, race and gender plays out in employee development, business growth and company reputation. Yet, he also shows how you can work effectively with people you don't like (or with people who don't like you) if you are committed to the same goal.

For those of us who have been `played' by corporations, Boyd's story could open old wounds. I found myself getting angry and putting the book down at times as he shares how the workplace failed him by not supporting his decisions and opinions and I felt his pain when he described how colleagues turned their back on him.

Gerald Boyd is obviously one of the great Black businessmen America has ever produced. Unfortunately, outside of the newspaper industry, he is not a household name. Thankfully, he followed his instincts and produced this book for guys like me to learn from.

I look forward to sharing it forever.
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on April 23, 2010
I attended a Robin Stone book talk at Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC before purchasing and reading this book. I wasn't strongly familiar with Boyd's life story (other than making the NYT & Blair scandal associations) at the time. However, in learning details at the book talk, it piqued my interest behind the assertion Mr. Boyd was most "hurt" by his termination b/c he felt attacked & betrayed by coworkers he believed to be his friends & family.

As a journalist and one who's worked the New York market as well as Chicago, Houston and Seattle, I found it questionable how any high ranking editor could ascend to such a coveted position & be naive to what that reality "really means." All top newsrooms, from my experience and several other accomplished colleagues, are absolutely snake pits!!! Cronyism, cliques, nepotism, sexism, racism run amoke in the name of competition & supposed fair play.

That was the notion I carried into my reading of this book and one that was otherwise sustained by Mr. Boyd, albeit, only after he'd been terminated. So I deeply consider this fact in rating this book given this context and perspective.

The positives: this is a 5-star read if you consider the light tone & directness of the storytelling. It's definitely easy to see Mr. Boyd was of the newspaper persuasion AND not some silky tongued magazine scribe. So it's definitely easy to read and relate to. Much respect to the man also for his honesty and willingness to expose the man behind the title: a divinely human individual with a strong will, ambition & drive but also imperfect, and slightly disconnected with some cold-hearted tendencies at times. Most of us who read and write books could only dream to be strong enough to be so honest in public. Particularly if given the circumstances surrounding Mr. Boyd's dismissal from the NYT, this is a revealing look from all angles if one is reading this book for specific answers. In the end, you get the portrait of a man who sacrificed a lot and gave his heart & soul to a profession that ultimately turned his talents and ambition against him.

The negatives: this is a 3-star read if you consider the expected one-sidedness in storytelling of lots of major issues that came to define this man's career. Much time is devoted to those who crossed him throughout his career, in effect pushing him to be the hardworking, accomplished editor he was. Especially by the time the later chapters hit the NYT Blair scandal, it becomes slightly tiresome that Mr. Boyd plays the victim to corporate politics. In all honesty, it does appear he was the "fall guy" for much larger issues like an ill-minded newsroom culture. However, when considering Mr. Boyd doesn't share how those same corporate politics might've benefitted his career at the expense of others (and i'm not referring to racial preference but the individual favor that must be gained by one coworker over another to ultimately reap the sweetest rewards from management), it does make his accusations about corruption, betrayal and disloyalty seem a bit dubious by only addressing these issues during his "free fall."

All things considered, this is a book you'll enjoy, learn from but also read with understandable scrutiny.

In the end, this was definitely a great read worth the time. Mr. Boyd seemed like a charming and driven individual who was just starting to appreciate true success -- the dream job AND the strong loving family most of us aspire to. It's a pity that just as he was started to reflect on his life, it was cut short.
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VINE VOICEon June 5, 2010
Difficult to put down.

From the beginning I couldn't help but imagine moving like a tennis PRO, watching balls coming at me left and right, from dozens of opponents playing me at once. Yes, it felt like a frenzied tennis match, as one of the balls coming at me was black, though it wasn't the ball I kept the closet eye on.

In short, there are so many caveats embedded in this account (leadership, governance, family values, race relations, politics...) that the historical importance of this telling experience might needle more debates than contemplative inspection. The latter it truly deserves.

Gerald is a trailblazer, a pioneer. Nearly every page rocks with raw emotion, though what stood out almost immediately was this immense sense of naivety... strikingly overwhelming, though not nearly as remarkably overwhelming as the passion he held out for journalism and the New York Times. I must admit however, though I shook my head frequently and challenged myself keeping up with the shifting timelines, it was this feverish enthusiasm for journalism that touched me most. Certainly kept me on my toes, and I picked up quite a few valuable `editorial' faux pas along the way too. Significant work.

My Times in Black and White is my top pick yet of 2010!
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on December 4, 2012
"My Times in Black and White" is a profoundly moving memoir. Set against the backdrop of current events and the power struggles that went on at the upper levels of management at two major American newspapers, this book is on the surface a Horatio Alger success story, with what to some, might seem to be a bitter twist at the end. I highly recommend this book, to all.
Journalism students, those trying to climb the corporate ladder, students of History and countless others will find that "My Times in Black and White" contains a wealth of detail and inside information. Learning about Mr. Boyd's challenges and professional achievements, despite the many obstacles he overcame is most inspiring. Interspersed with anecdotes from his family, friends and co-workers. this account of becoming the first African-American to be second in command at the venerable New York Times, only to lose that position, documents his tremendous talent and firmly places Mr. Boyd as one of the University of Missouri School of Journalism's most illustrious graduates. Move over Walter Cronkite! Kudos to Gerald's widow, Robin D. Stone for facilitating bringing this amazing story to light.
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on May 15, 2010
Gerald Boyd writes with unusual candor and insight into journalism, Times office politics, and the struggles of being a gifted black man thrust into the role of trailblazer. There is a humanity and graciousness in his acknowledgment of mentors and ability to detail his own weaknesses and inconsistencies. I can see why he was a good editor from his style of writing. Boyd is at his most lucid when describing the big picture, and also when dissecting the personalities and motivations of his colleagues; these skills are likely what allowed Boyd to navigate his way to the top of the editorial staff and to, in particular, revitalize the Metro section and manage over several Pulitzer winning stories.

Read this book. It will give you more insight into the politics of the highly successful newspaper editor, the life of a highly interesting man, and race politics from the angle of a "Jackie Robinson" type figure.
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on April 13, 2010
This is an excellent book, and a quick read. Gerald Boyd comes across as a very sympathetic character, who was enormously competent, often difficult, and occasionally wrong. Although the book warns against hasty judgments, it seems to reveal the villain of the piece to be his boss Howell Raines, with flabby leadership from Arthur Sulzberger.
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on May 30, 2010
Gerald Boyd's commitment to journalism and fairness is obvious here. The last 100 to 150 pages are a remarkable retelling of the internal chaos that followed the Jayson Blair revelations. But this book is not about Blair. Journalism lost an inspiring, honest and courageous pioneer far too early
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on December 24, 2014
A powerful book with insight into an ambitious man and the inside of the New York Times.
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