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Washington Paperback – July 2, 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Meg Greenfield is one of the legends of Washington, D.C. For more than three decades as a columnist and editor, writes Katharine Graham in a loving foreword, "she helped create the institutional voice of the Washington Post." This book, written secretly in the final two years of her life and now published posthumously, is a wonderfully incisive piece of work. Greenfield really understood the city she came to settle in, and she really understood people. Her observations are sharp and profound:
Public people almost eagerly dehumanize themselves. They allow the markings of region, family, class, individual character, and, generally, personhood that they once possessed to be leached away. At the same time, they construct a new public self that often does terrible damage to what remains of the genuine person. That is not because people here are bad or set out in the first place to become phonies, but rather because high politics in the city seems to reward the transformation. It is regarded as a measure of competence and required as a condition of success.
She has plenty to say about the media: "Journalists who persist in regarding themselves as thoroughly clean and the world around them as thoroughly dirty are guilty of more than misplaced moral vanity. They are also in danger of rendering themselves incapable of plausibly explaining what they are covering--except as further implied evidence of their own virtue." Greenfield was a powerful Washingtonian, but like so many Washingtonians--not least the elected lawmakers--she came from somewhere else (in her case, Seattle). In many ways, this book is a guide to keeping from going native, or, as historian Michael Beschloss nicely puts in an afterword, "how to live at the center of political and journalistic influence in Washington without losing your principles, detachment, or individual human qualities." Washington is part memoir, but mostly observation by a keen watcher and analysis by an acute mind. It stands to become a small classic on life in America's capital and, in a way, life anywhere. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Arriving in Washington on the Kennedy wave in 1961, Greenfield went on to journalistic renown as a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer at the Washington Post (taking over the page's editorship in 1979) and as a Newsweek columnist. In this wry analysis of Beltway moving and shaking, Greenfield (no relation to CNN's Jeff Greenfield) likens political life in the nation's capital to a "stunted, high-schoolish social structure" born out of isolation from the rest of the world and pervasive insecurities and dreads. In chapters on "Mavericks and Image-Makers," "Women and Children" and other players front- and backstage, Greenfield, who died of cancer in 1999 in her late 60s, brilliantly lays bare 40 years of the methods and foibles of the power elite and those who cover them. This is no tell-all scandal sheet (Washington's pervasive sexual affairs have a "biff-bam, backseat-of-your-father's Chevy quality") or the work of a "pop sociology scribe," but neither is it a lament for halcyon days. As the foreword from Post publisher Katharine Graham and afterword by historian and PBS commentator Michael Beschloss make clear, Greenfield, who wrote the book in secret and left it at her death, never lost her "principles, detachment or individual human qualities." Readers will find Greenfield's in-the-know frankness irresistible whatever their party affiliations the mark of great journalism. (Apr. 29) Forecast: Both sides of the aisle of the eponymous city will read this book, and it will certainly be a nostalgia stoker for talking heads on the Sunday morning after its release. Major review attention and the book's inimitably great writing should lead to strong sales nationwide. Oddly, it's Greenfield's first book, though a collection of her columns is in the works.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (July 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586481185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481186
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Meg Greenfield was the consummate insider for 30 years in rough and tumble Washington D.C. She was the powerful editor of the editorial page on the Washington Post and had a weekly column in Newsweek. She counted among her friends Post publisher Kathryn Graham, many powerful politicians and fellow journalists. Her political inclinations are hard to pin down because of her diverse opinions, her friends from all sides of the political spectrum and her even-handed reporting.
This is not a `tell-all' book. If you are looking for scandal and in-the-know tidbits on the famous players, you will be disappointed. She writes what it is to be in the middle of the whirlwind of national politics. The first danger is losing yourself, not your ideals. The role politicians must play to survive (and get re-elected) is for public consumption, and all too often the human being behind the spin ceases to exist. She likens D.C. to high school with twice the stress and all of the infighting necessary to be one of the Golden Boys. In D.C., there is no relaxing and reaping of rewards when you reach the exalted Senior status. You must constantly build your warehouse of favors owed to you while not alienating the voters or your peers.
Miss Greenfield has not written a memoir. I think that would have been impossible for her, as she was a completely private person. She maintains she had to be or she would have "lost" herself. Her writing style is economical and clear. She comes across as humorous, amazingly approachable with a very clear and unblinking eye on what has gone on around her. She has an ease with writing that only the best journalists can carry off. The book raises questions and answers others.
Unfortunately, Miss Greenfield died before completing the last chapter.
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Format: Hardcover
I have admired Meg Greenfield's professional work for several decades. On a few (rare) occasions, I observed her when she appeared on television. Obviously very intelligent and articulate. A good person. But somehow guarded. Cautious. Almost shy. I was saddened to learn of her death and then eager to read this, her final book. It reads very much like a journal expanded into separate but related essays in which Greenfield struggles to answer questions such as these: How to understand the culture of the federal government? How to understand the inter-relationships between and among public officials and the media? And finally, in effect, "Where do I fit in?" Greenfield's answer to the first question is that the culture most resembles that of a high school. The inter-relationships can be (depending on a given issue) adversarial, adversarial-cordial, cordial/adversarial, or (occasionally) cordial. Where did Greenfield fit in? To offer an answer to that question could perhaps compromise Greenfield's relationship with her reader. Curiously, much more of what Greenfield thinks is revealed than of what she feels. (Perhaps she would have examined more of her feelings in a diary which, presumably, no one else would ever read.) Her approach to various subjects (e.g. power brokers, "good guys", villains, national and international crises) seems to be that of an anthropologist. But she also has a journalist's eye for significant details and an ear for the memorable phrase...as well as what could be called a "sniffer" for sensing what may not be immediately evident, lurking behind political posture or rhetoric. Those who knew her well are better-qualified than I am to comment on "who she really was" and "what she was really like.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
An interesting book, not least because Meg Greenfield's WASHINGTON teasingly promises more than it delivers, only hinting at the devastating expose that might have been. One wonders what information may have been in the many secretly coded files that Michael Beschloss edited into the finished manuscript. Did Greenfield name some names that Beschloss deleted? Did she tell some tales that he thought were better left untold? Unfortunately, Beschloss's essay doesn't give a clue. And neither does Katherine Graham's tribute.
What does come across clearly from the published work is that Greenfield knew many more secrets than she ever told, that she kept these secrets while working for Max Ascoli at The Reporter and Katherine Graham at the Washington Post, and that she may have taken some of her best stories with her to her grave.
One conclusion that occurs after reading WASHINGTON is that reporters and editors have a lot more information than they ever share with their readers -- and that the game of "I know something you don't know" is one of the favorite pastimes in our nation's capital.
To see that confession in print, Greenfield's book is well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading this book make you feel like you were partaking in a nice little gossipy talk over coffee with a close friend. The author had a wonderful writing style that kept me interested even during sections that I normally would have skipped. I really did not expect the type of book this turned out to be, the author covers her impressions of the type of people that make it to elected government office and what they have to do to stay there. She also covers her thoughts on the people that make their living covering or helping these elected officials. It makes for funny and insightful reading.
The only thing I would have liked were more names of the people she covered. She does a classy job of covering nasty little items, but leaving out names or even strong hints as to who she is talking about. Overall this is an interesting book that covers her impressions and time in Washington. It is not a dry year by year run down of major events, but her impressions of the people. For example she spends time talking about the similarities between Washington and a clicky high school with the popular kids living on perception over substance. If you are interested in Washington and the people that make it run then you will enjoy this funny, witty book.
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