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Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, Legendary Editor of The Washington Post Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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“The absolute best nonfiction book of the year . . . a work of journalistic art . . . history straight and true . . . should be required reading at the Columbia School of Journalism.”—Chicago Tribune
“The best Bradlee biography we’re likely to get.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Surprising and compulsively readable . . . Himmelman’s chapters on Watergate are especially masterful, untangling that web in a fresh and comprehensible way.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A sparkling, revealing, definitely controversial, and very readable book . . . highly amusing, particularly for any connoisseur of juicy modern American politics.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The bold brilliance of Jeff Himmelman’s Yours in Truth comes through because it is not simply a biography of a quixotic figure who changed the timbre of American newspapers. Rather, it is also a riveting history lesson with fastidiously researched facts intertwined with first-person observations.”—Charleston Post and Courier
“Embedded in Yours in Truth there are fundamental insights about journalism and the role of a dynamic press.”—The Atlantic
“The biographer either sells his soul for the cozy dinners or bails for the truth. Himmelman chose the latter.”—The Huffington Post
“[A] riveting new life of one of America’s greatest editors.”—The Daily Beast
About the Author
Jeff Himmelman is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, where he has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award; his writing has also appeared in New York, GQ, Washingtonian, and The Washington Post. His work with a team of reporters at the Post helped the paper secure the national reporting Pulitzer Prize for its post-9/11 coverage. He is also a professional musician who writes, records, and performs under the name Down Dexter. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three daughters.
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Himmelman's writing is polished and intelligent. I was drawn in as much by his authorial voice - by turns, intimate, straightforward, defensive, and funny - as I was by his narrative about Bradlee's life. And what a life it has been! Himmelman has excavated some fascinating nuggets about Bradlee and presents them beautifully. Only a couple of times did I find my attention wandering during yet another section about how cool & charming Bradlee is.
The section in Yours in Truth that caused such a stir revolves around Himmelman's presentation of two very interesting disclosures about Bradlee and his ace reporters, Woodward and Bernstein. The first revelation centers on Himmelman's discovery of proof that Woodward and Bernstein lied when they claimed that they never used a Watergate grand juror as a source in their Watergate reporting (the female juror is referred to as "Z"). Himmelman played sleuth, and it's nifty to read how he arrived at this revelation.
To my mind, the second revelation is less startling and perhaps less important, unless you're Bob Woodward: it involves Bradlee's admission to another biographer/interviewer in the early 1990s that he, Bradlee, had some wisps of doubt - "residual" unease - about minor details in Woodward's account in All the President's Men of his interactions with Deep Throat (spy-craft touches like Woodward's placing of a red flag in a potted plant outside his apartment when he wanted a meeting with Deep Throat AND Deep Throat's setting of a meeting time by drawing a clock on an inside page of Woodward's the New York Times).
To repeat, these details struck me as fairly minor in the grand scheme of Watergate and the WashPo's coverage of it. Bradlee has never, ever, given any indication that he questioned the veracity of Woodward's general reporting. But Himmelman has a sharp eye and plumbs Bradlee's quote about the "residual" unease to yield a heretofore unacknowledged truth about Bradlee.
Sometimes it's the tiny details - the stray comment, the white lie or lingering doubt, the seemingly insignificant action that may not line up neatly with the general narrative arc of someone's life - that say something important about an individual. In writing a biography of Bradlee, Himmelman draws our attention to the fact that when you get right down to it, human personality and individual experience are pretty murky regions.
As some readers may already know, Himmelman's decision to include these and a few other tidbits effectively torpedoed his relationships with Woodward as well as Bradlee and Sally Quinn. I can understand why they were infuriated. But I have to say that as a reader, I'm grateful for Himmelman's instinct toward fuller, rather than lesser, disclosure.