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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 17, 2003
I picked this up because I had a long commute and it was about the only thing that looked interesting in the library's collection of audio books on CD. What I found was surprisingly charming and entertaining. Mr. Brokaw gives us a biography of who he is, and starts out with his ancestors. He tells how they came to South Dakota, what was important to them, and how that eventually affected him. He includes proper historical setting for the events he relates and in some cases the reasons behind the values they held. He is clearly aware that a part of who he is comes from his ancestry.
He also tells about his own life; where he lived and the memories he has of the various places and people that were a part of his life. I was even impressed that he spent a considerable amount of time dealing with his shortcomings. One chapter tells how his pride and arrogance nearly cost him much of what he holds dear today, such as his career and his wife. I was impressed with the candor with which he discussed the events, rather than trying to excuse himself or simply hide a weakness. Another item that made me smile was telling about how the parents of a friend, who had gone through the Depression, had a difficult time using disposable paper towels, such a wasteful item.
While perhaps a nostalgic view of his life, I found it honest and sincere and I enjoyed listening to it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2002
Just as my parents turned to Walter Cronkite to bring them the news when I was growing up, I have turned to Tom Brokaw. Through numerous presidential elections, world crises and the horrific days surrounding 9/11, his coverage has been the one I tuned to. To me, Brokaw has a way of delivering the news that makes it seem like a conversation among friends --- with a tone that has feeling and emotion, as well as authority.
A couple of years ago at an AOL Partners Conference, Brokaw was a guest speaker. He had just finished covering the funerals of Lady Di and Mother Teresa, traveling to both from his vacation at his home in Montana. His stories about two long trips to report on these high-profile events back-to-back gave new perspective on the high price that being in the news spotlight carries. His talk was personal as he referenced how the Internet has changed the way we receive news and what it --- and cable --- have done to the relevance of the kind of news he has delivered for the past couple of decades --- network news. Later I heard him moderate a panel about this same subject in the city with some leading journalists from Time, CNN and TheStreet.com. He was the consumate host, approaching the evening's discussion with one caveat. We would be finished by 8:00 as the Yankees were playing in the Playoffs and he was not going to miss the game on television. Sports, which brought him such joy when he was growing up, continue to be a passion.
While Brokaw is great to watch from the studio in New York, the pieces that he has done in Montana and South Dakota have been some of my favorites. He always seems more in his element there in the Heartland than he does standing or sitting at an anchor desk in New York. As he walks along a mountain ridge or a street in a small midwestern town doing an interview or a color piece, it is clear that his home and his history in South Dakota mean a lot to him.
Reading A LONG WAY FROM HOME: Growing Up in the American Heartland I see why. It's a memoir of the days before Brokaw left South Dakota to travel the country as a reporter, and then as a national media personality. What shaped him was a childhood in this desolate part of the country where success was measured on honest work and a God-fearing life.
One interesting note --- while television was available in most major cities by the mid-'40s, it did not find its way to South Dakota until the early '50s. News in this part of the country came from radio --- where the weather report led the news since it would affect everyone's livelihood, farming. He would watch David Garroway on the Today Show with his mom, not knowing that someday he would have that same anchor seat. He writes how his mom would comment on his broadcasts with the seasoned eye of someone who had watched the show for years before her son took over.
With a gift of gab from the time he was a young boy, Brokaw gave his first public speech at age four --- it began with "They said I was too young to speak a piece tonight" --- a line he still remembers. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Throughout the book he references friends from over the years, and how they have influenced his life. For all his celebrity there were a lot of stories about how he has woven his past and present lives together, asking old childhood friends to join him at events like the Olympics and other special athletic championships. This is a man who has moved on, but still remains connected to the place that raised him. He and his wife Meredith returned to South Dakota to celebrate their 40th Anniversary last summer. As a man who could afford to celebrate this event anywhere he chose, it is fitting that he returned to his roots for this.
The basic values are referred to again and again. His mom taught him and his brothers to handle household chores such as basic cooking, ironing and shopping, as well as guiding him in building self-confidence and getting a good education. At one point he mentions how he often will iron his own clothes in a hotel, rather than spend the time or money to call for valet service. His dad, Red, named for his flaming red hair, taught him the value of a hard day's work though he confesses he inherited none of his dad's handyman talent.
Brokaw does not glorify his early days. He spends a fair number of pages talking about his failures and what he did when his path went awry. There's a lot here for people to learn about Brokaw. At the same time there are some pretty strong lessons about mastering the basics in life.
--- Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2003
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Tom Brokaw is ten years older than I, but I can identify with many of his experiences in growing up. Like him, I came from a small state that is often ridiculed by those from more urbanized areas (Arkansas in my case). Like him, I was lucky enough to be born to wonderful parents that instilled the right values. Like him, I don't really want to move back to where I came from, but I am eternally grateful for it, love to visit, and continue to be nourished by it.
Brokaw is a thoroughly appealing character in this book. His introduction cites his mother's assessment of the book: that his ego was showing through in some places. True enough, but it's not the sort of display that irritates you--more like the sort where you shake your head and are more than a little charmed. He doesn't spare himself in his account. He was told at one point by his future wife to basically shove off, since he was obviously heading nowhere fast--an assessment that one of his friends cooly confirmed to Brokaw's face. Given where he has gone since then, it's a little comforting to learn that he wasn't some ambitious machine checking off the steps on his ladder to success.
I especially enjoyed his discussion of how his consciousness was raised as regards treatment of American Indians. Time and again, a somewhat cocky Brokaw is shown not to be as smart as he thinks. The response of an Indian woman to his self-assured statement that he knew a lot about Indians since he was from South Dakota--I'll leave that to you to discover. It's a gem.
I've always had a weakness for tales told by people who are out of the limelight, who aren't the immediate images called up when you think of a particular era, who weren't in what some would consider the "mainstream". Tom Brokaw's South Dakota upbringing is just as integral a part of America in the '40's and '50's as that of someone not living in "fly-over" territory. He brings it to life in an engaging way.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2003
Tom Brokaw gives us a vivid recollection of his formative years and with that a history of the United States that flows well from page to page. But, Tom, we know you have made a wonderful life for yourself and do not really need to be reminded every third page. Next book, just write about Park Avenue, lovely, elegant trips and celebrities you have met. This book should have been kept to life in the heartland.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2008
Tom Brokaw must think that people care about every facet of his dull life--because he has elaborated on it in so much boring detail in this book that even Brokaw fans will throw their hands up after hearing another insignificant story and say "who cares."

Sadly, he comes across as a person who considered himself better than others and was incredibly insensitive when it came to class status. He often mentions in the book whether someone is "working class" and he claims that in high school "I was a member of the ruling class...it was a white man's and white boy's world" and writes about racism issues that deal with his going to school with Native Americans. If he thinks he is getting sympathy from the reader because he somehow grew beyond his bigotry it is hard to come to that conclusion through this book.

Brokaw is trying to build on his past "Greatest Generation" reputation by painting a picture of his childhood on the South Dakota prairie. But the problem is that it was a pretty boring childhood. Camp, summer jobs, trips to Minneapolis, fitting in at school--almost nothing happened to him that was anything unusual.

There are two exceptions that are worth hearing about. First, as a teenager he headed to New York City to appear on a game show with the South Dakota governor and ended up cheating on the show. Yes, he was part of the quiz shows scandals. This is something he probably should not have revealed.

Second, the only good thing about the book is that it tells the story of how this partying college kid was "counseled" to leave school by a caring professor who told him, "Get all the wine, women and song out of your system." Though this should embarrass the future anchorman, his professor used it to turn Brokaw's life around. Tom dropped out of college then begged the professor to let him back in as a serious student.

The book is also deceptive in length. It may look like a long book of over a couple hundred pages, but the types is double spaced and there are about 30 pages of picture-only pages mixed in the middle of chapters, so the actual length of the book would be about 100 pages in a normal book.

After reading this book any favorable opinion people have of Brokaw should decrease because he comes across as a smug, arrogant, rich guy who thinks his lowly upbringing was something special. It wasn't--he was raised the same way most other people were in the Midwest and nothing really changed for him until that college professor gave him a verbal kick in the pants to change his life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I admit that the fact that Tom Brokaw used to be a local announcer on a Sioux City newscast--tho I don't remember watching him--and that he spent years in Yankton influenced me to read this book, but I think it can speak to many people about growing up and doing the right thing while doing so. I found his account of the struggles of his forbears in South Dakota poignant, his account of his time in Bristol, Igloo, Ravinia, Pickstown, and Yankton full of interest. If you liked Russell Baker's Growing Up (which won a Pulitzer Prize) I think you will also like this book, even tho it might not win a Pulitzer. You can read this in a few hours, and when you are finished I bet you will have warm and friendly feeling about the author. I surely did.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 1, 2004
I can relate to this book. My parents lived through the Depression and raised their children in the prosperous sixties and seventies. They live in northern Wisconsin where most of the population was white. The similarites with Brokaw's South Dakota is basically the same. As a product of the Midwest, Brokaw is more similar to me than Rather (Texas) or Jennings (Canada).
I enjoyed this simple story. Tom relates how he made it in televison journalism and New York. Despite where he lives now, he considers himself at home in South Dakota rather than New York. Tom chronicles his early life and relates how and where he was raised even now determine his outlook on life. I feel the same way and that is why this book struck home. I would rather tramp the forests of northern Wisconsin than see the lights of Chicago. People make their way in life in some measure because of who they were born to and where they lived. Tom's rural life and his parents survival of the Depression determined a lot of what Tom eventually turned out to be. A great story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 12, 2010
Before Tom Brokaw became one of America's most famous anchormen, he was a kid with white bucks and a ducktail trying to make his mark in the hardscrabble world of South Dakota, circa 1950. "A Long Way From Home" details that journey in a thorough if bloodless kind of way.

Published in 2002, shortly after his similarly rootsy appreciation tome "The Greatest Generation" became a mega-bestseller, "A Long Way From Home" seems to ride the coattails of that success. It recites facts from the author's boyhood, pleasant and otherwise, without much subjective sense of what it was like to have lived though them.

Instead you get pages and pages of platitudes, as if from an Oscar speech gone awry: "Time and distance have sharpened my understanding of the forces that shaped my parents' lives and mine so enduringly. These forces are the grid on which I've come to rely, in good times and bad."

That's stiff enough even for an introduction, but the book continues like that for all of its 200-plus pages. At least they are wide-type, double-spaced pages, with photos showing a young Tommy looking not unlike Charlie Brown's long-lost pal Shermy. Yet narrative padding makes a slow-moving read even slower. Often he pauses from a brief story to explain a life lesson learned, or just bask in how far he has come. At times, Brokaw even catalogues various global events in a given year, like the fall of the Peron regime or the introduction of the Chrysler.

"America was booming, but that was of little comfort to 12-year-old Red Brokaw," he writes of his father. About one boyhood town, "Ravinia was a snapshot of America in transition from the party-line telephone system to rotary dial; from kerosene lamps to full electrical power..." After a while, I stopped hearing his resonant tones in my mind, and started hearing another Midwestern broadcasting legend, WJM's Ted Baxter.

A good memoir gives you a sense of what the people around the author were like, rather than what values they imparted on young Tom. Except for a few instances, bits of detail about teasing drunks, shoveling snow with a snaggle-toothed Swede, or waiting on a pair of down-and-out boxers, he seems content to skim the surface, surveying his life rather than examining it.

He does offer some amusing anecdotes, though they feel more like filled-out cocktail-party banter than anything introspective. One of his early college radio interviews was with that year's new Miss South Dakota, whom he greeted quite unintentionally as "honey". He was teased pretty good about it later, though it didn't hurt him as he wound up not only keeping his job but marrying Miss South Dakota.

Pain wasn't a stranger to Brokaw, but it could have been much worse. Brokaw is frank and somewhat humble, in his self-important way, in acknowledging this point. Did adult success make for a dull boy? I don't think so; I believe Brokaw's youth had a good memoir in it. But this wasn't it. Unless you are a Brokaw fan or have a deep, specific interest in the Midwest at mid-century, this is not worth your time.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2002
Mr. Brokaw's book is a realistic look at the hard life experienced fy residents of the Plains during the depression years. The story of this difficult life is tempered by the writer's nostalgia for the strong human values with which the residents of this part of our country are imbued. WIthout the author even having to state it, he himself is obviously greatly affected by these values with which he was inculcated. The author writes with affection and love-- for a time which all Americans cherish, no matter where they were born, if they grew up with a strong family life.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent and heartwarming book about growing up in South Dakota. Brokaw, easily the most intelligent, fair and personable of the network news anchors, goes into what made him what he is today -- growing up in America's heartland, the struggles of his father and mother, his life growing up, and his temporary descent into idiothood -- before pulling back and marrying his college sweetheart.

An excellent and highly literate book! I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes biographies.
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