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The Powers That Be Paperback – October 19, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"The book provided manna for political, history, political science and journalism junkies and groupies. It bared the warts -- biases, politically partisan maneuverings, egos, dollars-and-cents motivations, personality clashes, society maneuvers, internal political wars, insecurities, chauvinistic behaviors and restricted realities of the news organizations as seen through the people who owned and ran them. Stories galore."--Australasian Journal of American Studies "Halberstam deploys a stunning novelistic skill in showing how his scores of characters feel about one another... Every page carries a graphic revelation of some piece of subtle delineation, flashes of insight struck off by the adjacencies of power. So understanding is the reporting that the skeletons, once hauled from their closets, don't rattle much." -- Anthony Smith, The Nation "[An] important and admirable book ... The Powers That Be will remain stirring history." -- Richard Rovere, New York Times Book Review "Extremely good reading. It builds a lucid and engaging narrative about important people and important events and ... will keep readers up after bedtime. It is also crammed with anecdotes available only to insiders." -- American Journal of Sociology


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 792 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (October 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252069412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252069413
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has chronicled the social, political, and athletic life of America in such bestselling books as The Fifties, The Best and the Brightest, and The Amateurs. He lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on April 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read and loved this book for the stories and details it gives on the American press over the period of its glory, to about 1980. At that time, in the wake of My Lai, Watergate, and the Pentagon Papers, the press had revealed to Americans how much we really resembled other powerful countries and the depths to which some of our politicians fell. Halberstam makes the people who contributed to this collective glory come alive, from Kay Graham at the Washington Post and Buff at the Los Angeles Times to Seymour Hersh and William S. Paley, founder of CBS. He tells the stories with his ususal high and humanistic style, in an unmistakable moral tone (at one point he laments that the Munsters were created in place of a news program). He also reviews the presidency and politics from about Eisenhower to Nixon in fascinating detail, with plenty of editorialising, such as Nixon's snubs of his original patrons at the LA Times.

It is truly great reading, but in the end there is a bit too much of it. In retrospect, it also appears dated, and perhaps places a bit too much faith in the press. For those like myself who increasingly feel that the press is ridiculously focused on personal foibles instead of issues and failed to do its duty during the Clinton scandals - preferring to keep a trivial story alive rather than point out that it has all, like, happened before - they will find little support and that Halberstam had any inkling of when things might go too far.

Nonetheless, no one has done a better job at telling the story of the press, in print and TV, than Halberstam. He also succeeds in putting a great deal of issues in proper perspective, such as the rich careers of Walter Lippman, Teddy White, and Walter Cronkite.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Nitay Artenstein on September 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
For an avid news reader in Israel, such as I am, journalism in the United States always seemed like a role model, something the local press should aspire to. From the Pentagon Papers to Watergate, we've always been told the courage of the US media is something to imitate.
This book put me in some proper perspective. Halberstam's wonderful inside information, ranging from political pressure put on newspapers and the networks to squabbles among the press people themselves, avidly shows how limited American journalism was then, and by induction, how limited it probably is now. It mentions stories that were dropped not because they were not good or verified, but merely because some powerful figure in Washington, or worse yet a sponsor, chose to intervene. What to naive people might seem a scandal is shown here to be standard practice.
I heartily recommend this book. It's length (over a 1000 pages) can be intimidating at first, but not after you start reading - this is probably the most readable work I've come across, packed with information and yet never dull. While the scope of the book is limited (it was published in the 70s and does not go beyond Watergate), it is truly enlightening and mind-expanding, a must for anyone wishing to understand the media.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By T. Bratz on October 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a long book, but worth the time it takes to read. It's a history of the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine and CBS News.

Halberstam does an outstanding job of telling the stories of these organizations and tying them together in this book. The stories in this book are entertaining and informatative, teaching us about history, journalism and business.

If you've never read any of his books, this is a good one to start with. If you like it you should try some of his others, including:

The Best and The Brightest - A history of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the Vietnam war.

The Children - A story about the Civil Rights movement.

The Fifties - I never thought it was a very interesting decade until I read this book.

The Reckoning - A history of Ford Motors.

He's also written some great sports books. The bottom line is that you can't go wrong with any of his books.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Dirk J. Willard on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I read this book years ago and it still sticks with me. As a reporter in Vietnam, Halberstam was a thorn in the side of the Johnson and Nixon administration. He was watched by Nixon's plumbers and the FBI; Nixon thought he was a subversive. What he is is an exceptionally perceptive historian. In this book he follows the growth of the media industry from newsprint to magazines, radio and television. He told the Edward R. Murrow story before anybody else and his details on Watergate are even more frightening than Woodward and Bernstein's "All the President's Men." Halberstam seems to have that unique capacity to crawl inside the heads of people like Luce who gave us Time magazine. From their perspective, and those of everyday reporters, we see the struggle to balance grasping for the truth and the glory of the headline. We begin to understand how McCarthy could rise to power by using the deadline to sneak in enuedos about people. The author does a masterful job of showing the frustration of reporters and editors and how they finally overcame McCarthy's sinister power. This is an excellent book, not only for journalist but also for those who wish to understand the power of the media in shaping our world.

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