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The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate Paperback – Bargain Price, October 1, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Washington, D.C., is a city ruled by insiders, and few writers have broken through the social and public politics that govern it as eloquently as Williams. This posthumous collection presents a series of remarkably well-observed and intelligent profiles of the great and minor figures who have made D.C. for the past two decades. Williams, a longtime writer for the Washington Post and Vanity Fair, has a fine eye for telling details—the license plates on a bureaucrat's car, the folds of satin in a dying socialite's dress—but it's more than just details that make Williams's profiles so engaging. Underlying each representation is Williams's ability to make her characters as complicated on the page as they are in real life. It's that same concern that governs the heartbreaking personal pieces in the last third of the book, which covers Williams's losing battle with cancer. Here she is on her impending death: "whatever happens to me now, I've earned the knowledge some people never gain, that my span is finite and I still have the chance to rise and rise to life's generosity." In these final pieces, Williams steps out from under the self-effacing veil that made her such a fine journalist and speaks of her own experiences. The result is a collection of writing that dissolves the boundaries between the personal and the political to arrive at an obvious but no less startling conclusion. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Lovely...Stunning, unflinching...Williams had a special voice, one capable not just of canny political observation but of tenderness and bracing intimacy." New York Times Book Review"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484576
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,838,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marjorie Williams was born in Princeton, N.J., in 1958 and died in Washington, D.C., in 2005. She was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, an editorial columnist for the Washington Post, and a frequent contributor to Slate and the Washington Monthly. Public Affairs has published two posthumous anthologies of Williams's writings. The first, "The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate," was a New York Times best-seller and won the PEN/Martha Albrand Nonfiction Award. A prepublication excerpt in Vanity Fair ("Hit By Lightning: A Cancer Memoir") won a National Magazine Award and was later included in "The Best American Essays 2006." The second collection, "Reputation: Portraits in Power," profiles prominent figures in late 20th century Washington. "The engagement is journalistic," observed Tim Rutten in a Los Angeles Times review of "Reputation," "but the antecedents are in the deep literature of social observation. Jane Austen and Edith Wharton come quickly to mind." About "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," Katha Pollitt wrote, "She was not just the best Washington journalist of her generation, she was one of the best journalists, period." Williams is survived by her husband, Timothy Noah, a senior writer at Slate, and her children, Alice and Will. More information about Williams and her writing is available at womanatthewashingtonzoo.com/

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
And I. . . .
this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief--
Only I complain. . . . this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,
Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death--
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open
Randall Jarrell "The Woman At The Washington Zoo"

Marjorie Williams died of liver cancer last year. Her husband has put together her columns/essays, some of them published and some of them are new, into this book. He titled the book from the poem written by Randall Jerrell. They are extraordinary stories, and the most extraordinary is the story of her diagnosis. She tells us about the physicians she visited, the tests she endured, the support of family and friends, and the hope that she would overcome. We know now, of course, that she did not. But, in the telling of her story and that of many other people and their relationships, she opens up her world to us.

Her columns/essays of the people who inhabit Washington are personal. How Clinton told Gore why he lost the election, and how their relationship mattered. Looking into Richard Dorman's closet and playing ping pong. Barbara Bush, the Head of the Bush household, so frightened her mother-in-law, that she did not want to cross her.
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Format: Hardcover
You will close this book and mourn that there won't be 30 more years of insight and delicious wit from this great writer. She could do everything: the laser-precise profile; social commentary that made you see events with new understanding; personal essays of heart-stabbing clarity.

Her pieces about living with illness and facing death will enter the canon of literature on how to live and die.

Her loss echoes throughout this book, yet it is a volume full of pleasure. Anyone who loves great writing will luxuriate in spending time with this writer working at the height of her powers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of journalist Marjorie William's posthumous collection of writings, profiles and columns says it all. The first third focuses on her political interviews with the Washington "elite"; the middle portion is her musings on her family; and the final section is heart-rending as she profiles her four year battle against fate & lung cancer which ended her life at the age of 47 earlier this year.

From an alcoholic literary family, Ms. Williams was brilliant at Harvard, ambitious in her work with Joni Evans at Viking Press before launching another career in her mid-twenties at The Washington Post, and an exacting wordsmith where writing was her gift but her family was her life. (A comparable life of the poet Jane Keynon was published this year by her husband Donald Hall: "The Best Day, The Worst Day." Ms. Keynon was another gifted wordsmith who would also die at the age of 47.)

Her husband picked the best of her observations on life and politics from Vanity Fair and The Washington Post. It is amazing how many politicians would allow themselves to be interviewed by her, when time after time, she would be brutally honest in her attention to details and her summations. "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" is best read as memoir celebrating a life fully lived and tragically cut short for her family. How do you live, knowing that you will die sooner than later and leave your two young children behind? This book is that answer.
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Format: Hardcover
Rarely does a book exceed my expectations, but this one did. I hadn't heard of Marjorie Williams till I read a news story about the book.

Williams died prematurely, at age 47, leaving two young children as well as a legacy of writing. Her husband collected the writings as a tribute to his wife and a pleasure to the reader.

Like any collection of columns, some will appeal more than others. Some topics seem dated, especially the Bill Clinton stories, and some obscure, such as the story of Richard Darman. The tone and style vary considerably.

But every so often Williams really captures a truth in a truly fresh and unique way, and that's what makes the book worth reading.

Writing about Princess Diana's death, she reminds us that almost every woman shares the experience of getting into a car with a man who really shouldn't be driving. And we feel powerless and sometimes really are.

The Barbara Bush essay seems more timely than ever, especially after the famous Hurricane Katrina remark ("They're better off now...") Some Texans had told me they're not fond of the former First Lady, shaking their heads when I asked why. And it's not surprising that George Sr. was a famous flirt with his own indiscretions and affairs.

And we get a rare discussion of Jeb Bush, W's brother, where Williams wonders which is worse: watching your older brother become prominent or suspecting your younger brother is handsomer and smarter.

Other essays are all over the map - everything from her child's relationship to insects to somber, rather abstract discussions of sexual harassment, in separate essays about Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas. Not being a parent, I can't relate to her tales of parenting, but of course most readers will.
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