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Personal History [Paperback]

Katharine Graham
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 24, 1998
Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

An extraordinarily frank, honest, and generous book by one of America's most famous and admired women, Personal History is, as its title suggests, a book composed of both personal memoir and history.

It is the story of Graham's parents: the multimillionaire father who left private business and government service to buy and restore the down-and-out Washington Post, and the formidable, self-absorbed mother who was more interested in her political and charity work, and her passionate friendships with men like Thomas Mann and Adlai Stevenson, than in her children.

It is the story of how The Washington Post struggled to succeed -- a fascinating and instructive business history as told from the inside (the paper has been run by Graham herself, her father, her husband, and now her son).

It is the story of Phil Graham -- Kay's brilliant, charismatic husband (he clerked for two Supreme Court justices) -- whose plunge into manic-depression, betrayal, and eventual suicide is movingly and charitably recounted.

Best of all, it is the story of Kay Graham herself. She was brought up in a family of great wealth, yet she learned and understood nothing about money. She is half-Jewish, yet -- incredibly -- remained unaware of it for many years.She describes herself as having been naive and awkward, yet intelligent and energetic. She married a man she worshipped, and he fascinated and educated her, and then, in his illness, turned from her and abused her. This destruction of her confidence and happiness is a drama in itself, followed by the even more intense drama of her new life as the head of a great newspaper and a great company, a famous (and even feared) woman in her own right. Hers is a life that came into its own with a vengeance -- a success story on every level.

Graham's book is populated with a cast of fascinating characters, from fifty years of presidents (and their wives), to Steichen, Brancusi, Felix Frankfurter, Warren Buffett (her great advisor and protector), Robert McNamara, George Schultz (her regular tennis partner), and, of course, the great names from the Post: Woodward, Bernstein, and Graham's editorpartner, Ben Bradlee. She writes of them, and of the most dramatic moments of her stewardship of the Post (including the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the pressmen's strike), with acuity, humor, and good judgment. Her book is about learning by doing, about growing and growing up, about Washington, and about a woman liberated by both circumstance and her own great strengths.

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Editorial Reviews Review

In lieu of an unrevealing Famous-People-I-Have-Known autobiography, the owner of the Washington Post has chosen to be remarkably candid about the insecurities prompted by remote parents and a difficult marriage to the charismatic, manic-depressive Phil Graham, who ran the newspaper her father acquired. Katharine's account of her years as subservient daughter and wife is so painful that by the time she finally asserts herself at the Post following Phil's suicide in 1963 (more than halfway through the book), readers will want to cheer. After that, Watergate is practically an anticlimax. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Not just the story of Graham's stewardship of the Washington Post, this "personal history" ranges from her favorite tennis partner (George Schultz) to her husband's fall into madness and suicide. A 200,000-copy first printing.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 642 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701047
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful combination of substance and opportunity! September 15, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Since I grew up in a house where the "Washington Post" was devoured daily, I was always aware of Katherine Graham. I read this book shortly after she passed away, and I was knocked off my feet.

She was blessed by the accident of her birth into a family of extreme wealth and ultimate social position. Her family's advantages - sadly compounded by her husband's untimely death - gave her inumerable opportunities. At the same time, she was brilliant, capable, focused, and a gifted communicator. This combination of traits and circumstances allowed her to live a most enthralling, significant life.

Throughout, I marveled at her "realness." Her family had more money and servants and things than anyone I am ever likely to meet, but she describes her challenges, insecurities, and fears in a way that allow me to appreciate how she faced and succeeded in life.

This is a compelling read despite its length and detailed content. It is well documented and beautifully written - without the aid of a ghostwriter. It does not suffer from spurious melodrama, myopia, or vanity to which so many autobiographers fall victim.

I highly recommend both the form and substance of this book.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uplifting & life affirming August 15, 2001
Anyone wanting any more insights into Watergate or the Pentagon Papers will probably be disappointed by this book (if you want that read Ben Bradlee's autobiography). This book is very aptly titled - it is indeed a personal history and what comes out in the end is the story of a woman who via her upbringing and marriage was afflicted by a crushing lack of confidence, deeply insecure, troubled by some of her closest relationships (in particular her own mother) and in her own words little more than a housewife. This same person upon the death of her husband was thrust into a world which she was totally unsuited for and against all odds flourished as the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
What comes out in the end is that people in general and women in particular are capable of taking grievous blows and overcoming far greater challenges than they ever realise.
A friend of mine lost her partner in similar circumstances to Katharine Graham many years ago and I wish I could have bought her this book then. Without wanting to sound patronising, this is a good book for men but a great book women. I don't know whether she is a feminist icon but she certainly should be !!
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I read this book's first chapter on the internet, and knew I had to buy it. I was captivated by the analysis and detail in the early chapters, specifically targeted at her parents, their relationship, and the impact they had on her and her siblings. Details are gradually drawn away from family and, after Phil Graham's death, is focused almost entirely on her career at the Post. But the new focus her life takes is nothing short of inspirational, and her recollection (and application)of detail provides us with an absorbing panorama of faces and places. Having known little about the newspaper industry prior to this book, I am eager to know more, and put Ms. Graham's tremendous accomplishments in a more informed perspective. Despite her insecurities, fears and worries (which were difficult to read--even to believe--at times) they are obviously a part of her personality, and by revealing them she made her story more compelling. I felt that, if her point was to write a manual for success, she could have done so. But how much she would have deprived us of! The only serious deficiency I found was that I thought, with the great deal of commentary at the beginning of the book concerning how she and her siblings were raised--with particular emphasis on her mother's influence--that she would have included more on what the effects of her own role as a mother were. But, this omission seems to have been a conscious one on her part. This was my nightly reading for quite some time, and I feel a little sad that I no longer have it to look forward to! Though I was certainly glad when the interminably long segment on the pressmen's strike was over, as important as the incident was...
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your typical coming-of-age story June 30, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A treasure for people who make a hobby out of media stories, as I do, _Personal History_ is as much about the Post as it is about Graham herself. But as I think Graham is saying in the book, everything personal in her life was somehow linked to the paper-- either through her own efforts at its helm or as the wife and daughter of the men who were leading it.
I've read a lot of the criticism of this book-- and I know enough about media history to know that at least some of it is fair. At least in the sense that it's accurate. Graham doesn't come out wearing a hair shirt about the real media relationship to people in power. She also has a slightly nervous tone-- the sound of someone who isn't very sure her accomplishments are going to be achieved. But in the end I found that even valid criticisms didn't really interfere with my reading of the book. In the end I was moved by it, and felt honored that Graham was so willing to put herself out there to be observed and judged.
In some respects it's difficult to argue that Graham had a difficult life-- she was born to such enormous privilege that she had resources to deal with tragedy that most people can never command. (You hear her refer to her family's 'summer home', but what the means remains opaque until you see the picture!). Even still, Graham is human. To be constantly in the shadow of the people in your life, to see yourself as helpmeet and not a full person, to emerge from that shadow and assert that you have a place in your own right-- that's certainly something that speaks to everyone, regardless of who they are.
What I find extraordinary is how revealing the book is about her insecurities. This is a very personal autobiography, and Graham lets you see her weaknesses in a way that I think most public figures would not allow.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good glimpse into the life of a great lady.
Published 1 month ago by Alice M. Krull
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Skim the first half
Published 1 month ago by Jan M.
5.0 out of 5 stars The books on tape version is the best because you get her own voice...
The books on tape version is the best because you get her own voice and she reveals emotion about certain parts of the text.
But the book, too, is splendid. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Eve Sandberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by MJT
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional memoir
Reading this felt like being invited into a family whose history was the history of the United States. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazonette
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story
Amazing story about an amazing woman. Plus you will learn abundantly about the publishing business. I was also impressed with how the rich are different
Published 5 months ago by E. Nering
1.0 out of 5 stars Book fell apart
The binding was completely disintegrated. Upon opening the book chunks of 50-100 pages simply fell out
Published 5 months ago by paige
1.0 out of 5 stars Could Not Have Been More Shallow
This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and it should have stayed there. I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies and have never read a more vapid and shallow... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars The memoir has fascinating material but badly needs a ruthless ...
The memoir has fascinating material but badly needs a ruthless editor who will cut the quoted letters and speeches in a draconianl fashion. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Earl Rovit
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