...nothing that has been printed about Mrs. Graham is as compelling as the story she herself tells in Personal History, her riveting, moving autobiography ... Am I making clear how extraordinary this book is? Kay Graham has lived in a world so circumscribed that her candor and forthrightness are all the more affecting. Her manners never desert her: she is even able to speak generously of the woman her husband ran off with ... She manages to rewrite the story of her life in such a way that no one will ever be able to boil it down to a sentence, but I'll give it a try: Katharine Graham turns out to have had not two lives but four, and the story of her journey from daughter to wife to widow to woman parallels to a surprising degree the history of women in this century. It's also a wonderful book.
I don’t know of a more complex autobiography by an American business figure, certainly not one that allows itself such moments of weakness, embarrassment, and pain. There is plenty of material in Personal History to satisfy the most obvious expectations—all the familiar episodes of the Post’s history are replayed, and famous faces bob into sight as if in a capital version of 'Grand Hotel'—but more interesting is the degree to which this memoir is a description of the muggy intimacy of the world of Washington and the way one powerful woman learned to live her life there ... For all its glamour and great personages, Personal History is a litany of humiliations, incidents in which the memoirist faults herself for lack of judgment, of independence, or of strength ... Her allegiance to democratic capitalism is no less firm than that of William F. Buckley, Jr., and her inherent faith that the establishment élites will do the right thing is nearly absolute. She really does seem to believe that Watergate was an aberration.
In her memoir, Personal History, a huge and most methodical book, Graham writes in detail about her family and her tragic marriage and, best of all, the many years as the great custodian of the family newspaper, the Washington Post, including the turbulent, historic era when its reporting led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 ... Because in her exacting way she is inclined to include too much--parties, dinners, letters written and received and repeated self-deprecations that are understandable but not always interesting--Personal History lumbers. Yet her account of 23 years of marriage to a doomed man whose increasing spirals of 'hyperactivity . . . with its accompanying angst and vitriolic diatribes' are a harrowing record of his suffering and of hers.
The saga that unfolds in Personal History, Katharine Graham’s 625-page autobiography, is worthy of a Joseph Campbell exegesis: A young Wall Street king, Eugene Meyer, marries his aggressive queen, Agnes, and they spawn a royal family of four princesses and a prince. Dominated by their overbearing literary mother and ignored by their dismissive multimillionaire father, these virtual orphans are raised by governesses and servants. Frumpy Princess Katharine shivers with inadequacy ... Most autobiographies are more about concealing than telling, but Graham ropes off relatively little. Her children’s personal lives are deliberately excised from the book ... Graham’s aptly named book crosscuts between the engrossing social history of her life and times–populated by the likes of Marie Curie, Edward Steichen, Auguste Rodin, Thomas Mann...–and her agonizing personal history.
...a pitch-perfect anthology that captures the nuances of life in the nation's capital ... Although the writing is consistently vibrant, the real treats in this book are Graham's vignettes introducing each piece. An observer of D.C. life for decades (she even refers to herself in the introduction as the Forrest Gump of Washington always managing to be ringside for historical events), Graham's comments add considerable zing to the volume.
Read as a memoir, the book is a poignant account of Graham’s long quest to overcome sexism, learn the newspaper business and gain self-esteem. Read as media history, however, it is deceptive ... Graham’s book exudes affection for Kissinger as well as Robert McNamara and other luminaries of various administrations who remained her close friends until she died in 2001. To Graham, men like McNamara and Kissinger — the main war architects for Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — were wonderful human beings ... In sharp contrast, Graham devoted dozens of righteous pages to vilifying Post press operators who went on strike in 1975 ... Graham’s book avoids any semblance of introspection about the Vietnam War and the human costs of the Post’s support for it ... Katharine Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers was indeed laudable, helping to expose lies that had greased the wheels of the war machinery with such horrific consequences in Vietnam. But the Washington Post was instrumental in avidly promoting the lies that made the Vietnam War possible in the first place.
As someone intimately connected with a powerful newspaper in the nation's capital, Graham has written a book possessed of a vast sweep and a cast that reads like a series of program listings for Biography ... Graham provides an insider's view of American history from the Great Depression to the Great Society, as well as a snapshot view of life pre-feminist movement. Much of what she describes sheds an occasionally disturbing light on the awkward relationship among politics, economics, and the media ... Personal History is marked by an uncommon grace as well as honesty. Katharine Graham describes with compassion and calm the insanity that swallowed her life and took her husband's ... I feel that it is almost too personal to be history; that is, while no one with any sense expects a memoir to be heavily weighted with objectivity, Graham exhibits a dismaying penchant for self-justification and self-explanation that is ultimately negative ... What Graham provides us with, mostly artlessly, is a living, written photograph of what a woman's life was like before 1970 -- how women thought, what they believed -- and in some respects how it still is.
She makes a vivid and persuasive case for why it was so daunting for a woman of her generation to become, in the eyes of many, the most powerful woman in America—a designation she hated ... Her narrative is at times uneven, swinging from passages that sound almost like 'what I did last summer' to amazingly detailed insider accounts of moments of national crisis ... Graham is frank but not gossipy, self-critical but not falsely modest. She presents her 'personal history' with quiet courage and considerable wit.
Gracious, often touchingly ingenuous, at once panoramic and particular, Graham's autobiography absorbingly reconstructs her life of worldly privilege and affective deprivation as the daughter of one formidable man and the wife and widow of another, then chronicles her own rise to the challenges of captaining the Washington Post ... Her myriad stories--discreet to a fault--humanize a whole pantheon of Personalities. Her personal drama, however, upstages the rest.