Customer Reviews: On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News'
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on October 28, 2006
I would definitely recommend this book for anyone 1) who is interested in politics and media or 2) who likes unusual and engrossing memoirs. And if you fit both categories, then you will really love it. Dickerson finds a nice balance between telling us about his mother the network star and his mother the mother. I was not only emotionally engrossed in the downs and ups of the author's relationship with his mom, but I also learned a lot about politics and the press in the JFK and LBJ era.
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on March 8, 2007
I'm reading some of these reviews and seeing that some "got the book", while others did not. I think enough of these reviews will tell you "what the book is about", so I'll just be short and sweet about my take on this book.

It's a compelling and lovely account of Nancy Dickerson's rise to fame and ultimate gain of respect as a news woman. On top of it, it certainly outlines the somewhat selfish relationship between a mother and a son - perhaps on both sides. Selfishness among parents and children is ever so common in families. Then we seem to grow up or grow out of it. John does a tremendous job allowing readers to feel how he felt both as an adult and a child, while allowing readers to feel like they are in the room while visiting some pretty exciting places in "old" high society Washington.

The book brings to life the many hardships women had in the 50's and 60's about choosing to work, and then being taken seriously in the workplace. Her personal involvement with top politicians and Hollywood may have been instrumental in times of not being taken seriously, but who knew this more than her? She certainly knew what she was up against. It's a beautiful story of Nancy's personal rise and fall, of not only her career but her marriage and her health. And most of all, it's a transforming account of John Dickerson's love and respect for a woman he chose not know while growing up, began to understand once he was grown up, and sort of yearned for when it was a little to late. You can never get time back.

I agree with Al Franken's review when he says you may hate John Dickerson by page 40, but don't be discouraged, by page 47 you'll do an about face and by the last chapter you see a man who respects, appreciates, understands and misses his mother dearly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone.
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on May 21, 2007
John Dickerson's kind and honest account of his mother, Nancy Dickerson, makes a fine read. His book is no "Mommie Dearest." He exposes the hypocrisy of the male dominated Washington media world of the sixties and seventies when men and women were held to vastly different standards. Dickerson, like his mother, is smart and knows he is not likely to be "a perfect parent." His mature sense of humor informs, entertains and forgives. This is a "must-read" for working parents who know how difficult it is to have a job and kids.
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on March 10, 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed this book on many levels. As someone who is catching up on my history of politics while paying closer attention to the present-day administration and world events, I loved the bits of history woven into this wonderful, messy, realistic story of a son's relationship with a famous, influential mother. As a mother of young sons who has struggled with the issues of work and raising a family, hearing a son's point of view was particularly compelling.

John doesn't give any easy answers to the modern conundrum of how to balance work and family, nor does he place the responsibility solely on women; he makes it an issue for all parents, male and female. As he says near the end of the book: "Our story should not be mined for any confirmation about whether a woman should choose work or family. Those aren't the lessons I was looking for. I have tried to figure out my role as a person and a parent, figure out how to get the balance right between achieving something durable in the public realm and doing something important and genuine in the private one. How do I avoid the anxiety, indecision and regret of getting the mix wrong? I don't see that task any differently for my wife just because she's a woman who works and is a mother.... [We] have a better chance of balance than Mom did, in part because of what Mom and other women did to allow women the choice to shape a broader identity."

No mother would want her child to take the path John did to find peace with his mother, but as a woman I can appreciate the agony of the choices Nancy Dickerson had to make between doing something she absolutely loved and needed for self-fulfillment, and taking care of the people she loved. There are no easy answers here for how to strike that balance, but it does make a case for every person's right to make a difference in the world, in a way that he or she chooses. Hopefully the decisions are less painful for all involved now than they were 30 years ago because we have more options and more social acceptance of broader life roles.

Read the book for the insider's look at politics in the 60s and 70s, for a great story of a teenager who rebels against his mother and then finds his way back to her, and for a look at a strong lady who did a lot of good in both small and large ways.
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on November 25, 2006
On Her Trail is a wonderfully written, beautifully constructed book. John Dickerson's memoir is no mere chronology of life with his famous mother, it is a carefully drawn portrait that makes us feel about Nancy Dickerson exactly as he does at various stages of his life. It's brave for an author, and braver still for a son, to capture his subject from unflattering angles, but the overall effect is far from harsh. In fact, just the opposite. Dickerson's tone is intimate, but this book never reads like it was written from a psychiatrist's couch. Instead, it is an honest, accessible story of the journey we all take to understand our parents as complete human beings. That Dickerson's mother was a beloved figure from a time when we liked to keep our icons one-dimensional made his journey more challenging, perhaps, but Dickerson proves more than equal to that challenge. This is a very readable book, regardless of which Dickerson you're a fan of. Enjoy!
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on October 30, 2006
I very much enjoyed On Her Trail. Nancy Dickerson is a tremendously interesting subject for a biography - a complicated woman who accomplished a great deal in an era when the odds certainly were stacked against her. In this book, her son has chronicled both her achievements and her shortcomings with an honest and thoughtful eye. The insights into working parenthood alone would be worth the price of admission, but the younger Dickerson is also a great storyteller - the book moves along at a fast and entertaining clip. I highly recommend it.
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on November 29, 2006
Don't be fooled into thinking that this is just another `society girl' story. This biography of Nancy Dickerson is more than it seems. Not being American, and not having grown up with the name and image of this rather remarkable woman, I discovered unknown worlds in her son's honest portrayal of his mother. Well-written, in a style that spares neither Nancy the television journalist nor Nancy the wife and mother, John Dickerson does not hesitate to wrap himself over the knuckles as well.

In writing Ms Dickerson's biography, he also gives the reader insights into the worlds of television journalism and broadcasting, behind-the-scenes in the political world(s) of the middle--late years of the 20th century and, no less, an unflinching look at himself, from childhood to adulthood.

Precisely because John Dickerson has not expressed slushy adulation for his mother on every page -- and because he has the ability to step back and look clearly at the worlds in which she moved so effectively -- the portrait of Ms Dickerson that emerges is a moving one. She was neither angel nor saint, and that's okay.

Far more touching for me, however, is the relationship between mother and son that he describes - at times, ruefully. Far from dwelling in the past, though, he uses his understanding of this relationship to examine his own experiences of fatherhood.

I hope that John Dickerson will write other books in the future: he has intelligence, wry humour, and an honesty that is, frankly, rather rare among journalists who move in the heady worlds of the movers and shakers. Well done! - Jill Rogoff
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on October 23, 2006
On Her Trail is a must read for anyone with an interest in Washington society, the mechanisms of national political life, women's history, or the evolution of modern journalism. It is also a model of supple, elegant story-telling. Journalist John Dickerson has laced his biographical memoir with wit and pathos, turning the book into a real page-turner.

He traces his painful but intertwined relationship with his mother, tv news pioneer Nancy Dickerson, a role model for generations of ambitious women inspired by her career as a female national network news correspondent. Dickerson uses the tools of his trade to explore his mother's life from many vantage points. By telling "both sides of the story," he recalls his "Mom" through the eyes of an emotionally neglected child while sustaining empathy for her throughout his narrative. Anyone who has read John Dickerson's columns at Slate Magazine [...], knows he is a master of Washington's elite ethnography: analyzing the unspoken rules of the game and the skills of politicians attempting to negotiate these rules. He got his initial training at Merrywood, his parent's mansion, opening doors for galas frequented by Washington's leading power couples. As the book progresses, we flash in and out of Nancy Dickerson's adventures on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail---experiences compared and contrasted with those of her son, for many years a Time political and White House correspondent. I got an almost visceral exposure to the way news is gathered and had many laughs and tears along the way.
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on October 26, 2006
It's tough to write a memoir with getting either sappy or flippant but Dickerson pulls it off here. His mother's story is intriguing, but what makes the book stand on its own is his nuanced way of looking back--not sentimental, but also not unevenly harsh. It's also very funny along the way, both when it's remembering and reconstructing Nancy Dickerson, and when Dickerson looks at his own life and how his mother affected it.
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on November 16, 2006
I enjoyed "On Her Trail" tremendously. John Dickerson's book was engaging from start to finish - his rapier wit and self-deprecating sense of humor made me laugh out loud more than once. Nancy Dickerson was a very fascinating woman - smart, ambitious and glamorous. She was a woman admired and emulated by many. For me, the author's candid accounts of his journey from childhood to adulthood with his mother shed new light on Nancy Dickerson - not only as an American television icon, but as a very real human being. I definitely look forward to enjoying more of John Dickerson's future literary endeavors.
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