YOURS IN TRUTH: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee. By Jeff Himmelman. Random House. 473 pages. $27.
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.
From the start, it was destined for automatic comparison to previous autobiographies of two giants of journalism: the charismatic former Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, and the shy but fearless Katharine Graham, late owner of The Washington Post.
They dared to print the truth as they saw it, resulting in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and thereby forcing politicians to be more accountable.
Those who read both Bradlee’s and Graham’s comprehensive memoirs will not only have their memories refreshed by “Yours in Truth,” but also will be treated to fascinating behind-the-scenes actions of the major players behind Watergate, including dramatic newsroom blow-ups.
Given permission by Bradlee three years ago to write “whatever ... you want about me, as long as it’s the truth,” Himmelman gained access to all of Bradlee’s files, as well as some stowed away at the Post, unopened.
The author has assembled riveting scenarios relating private moments between Bradlee and his controversial third wife, writer Sally Quinn. Himmelman also reveals that by taking on the politically powerful, the Post had risked far more than its reputation.
A former Post reporter, Himmelman later privately assisted Bob Woodward with his book, “Maestro.” Woodward was so impressed with Himmelman’s work that he suggested he contact Bradlee, then in his late ’80s, about writing an updated biography of him.
Although Himmelman never received criticism from Bradlee or Sally Quinn, some of their close friends sharply chastised him for his inclusion of incidences regarding the couple’s private life.
However, it is invigorating to read Himmelman’s accounts of what it means in a newsroom to take pride in getting things right, something all too often missing in today’s Internet and blogs.
Reviewer Dottie Ashley, the arts columnist for The Charleston Mercury