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4.0 out of 5 stars A BUTTERFLY SPREADS HER WINGS
Today I finished Personal History by Katharine Graham, longtime publisher of the Washington Post.
It's interesting, because Kay Graham is such a legendary figure in Washington, lauded for having stuck it out as the only woman in a man's world (business executives in the 60s/70s/80s).
But yet, she is not the steadfast person that everyone believes her to be. She...
Published on July 18 2004

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3.0 out of 5 stars Katharine Graham: Moral Hero
Katharine Graham: Job of the Journalism World
Whether they should have or not, the politics, journalism and social issues discussed in Katharine Graham's Autobiography captured little of my interest. However, what kept my attention through a very wordy 625-page book written by Katharine herself (who was thankfully just the editor of the Post and not a writer) was...
Published on April 25 2002 by Daicia Staudinger


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A BUTTERFLY SPREADS HER WINGS, July 18 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
Today I finished Personal History by Katharine Graham, longtime publisher of the Washington Post.
It's interesting, because Kay Graham is such a legendary figure in Washington, lauded for having stuck it out as the only woman in a man's world (business executives in the 60s/70s/80s).
But yet, she is not the steadfast person that everyone believes her to be. She has to deal with a husband with manic depression, and his eventual suicide. Her one son volunteers for Vietnam, the other gets arrested for protesting it.
She basically suddenly finds herself CEO after Phil (Graham's) death, and almost drowns under the pressure, but somehow manages to stick it through. Even when she does the right thing, she often second guesses herself and is extremely sensitive to criticism.
The book seems to unfold as a butterfly emerges from a cocoon; at first she can hide behind her father and then her husband, but eventually must learn to make things fly on her own.
Towards the end it gets more business-y, with some CEO jargon and discussions about the Post company. I thought it was kind of boring how she seemed to name every single person she ever hired or fired.
But some parts are really interesting. Especially the bits about her childhood, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate.
I would really recommend this book as a good read. Kay Graham is like Forrest Gump- she's done a little of everything.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, June 6 2004
By 
Amazon Customer (E. Calais, VT USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Personal History (Audio Cassette)
This is a very personal autobiography of Katharine Graham, one of the most influential women of the Twentieth Century. Graham begins her story with the tale of how her parents met at an art exhibition, and relates the events of her early childhood. She explains how her father came to purchase the Washington Post, and how she alone amongst her siblings was truly drawn to the paper from her teenage years. She goes on to describe dating and eventually marrying Phil Graham, and how her father came to pass the management of the newspaper on to him. Later, she details Graham's descent into mental illness leading to his suicide, and how it finally fell onto her shoulders to lead the paper. Her most fascinating stories, however, come from her tenure as publisher of the Post, covering the turbulent period from the release of the Pentagon Papers, to the uncovering of the Watergate scandal and to the lengthy pressmen's strike against the Post in the 1970s.
The story is indeed a personal one, in which Graham documents events from her own point of view. As I read this book, I was constantly aware that Graham may have chosen to leave out some details and emphasize others in order to show herself in the best light. But since this is an autobiography, such a subjective account is perfectly reasonable. This is history as Graham would have it told.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What an Incredible Story!!!, Sept. 1 2003
By 
ufrh4 (Florida, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
This book just absolutely blew me away!
It's a long book, some 600 pages, but it truly is one that the reader can hardly bear to put down.
Katharine Graham is widely recognized for her association with Watergate, but this book goes oh so much further in truly revealing what an incredible woman she truly was. In truth, it reveals a person of such incredible humility and impeccable character.
Perhaps what amazed me the most about the book (I, like most, expected the frequent references to "who's who" in American history--she just happenned to rub shoulders with all of them) was her glaring honesty in talking about herself in retrospect--her self esteem, her marriage, her abilities as a manger, and her track record as a mother.
Katharine Graham was courageous enough, and indeed showed her brilliance, in truly opening up about what she faced growing up in a sheltered, priveleged upbringing. She was honest about her mother, her relationship with her father, and her insecurity in dealing with men in her early years.
The Watergate sequence of the book can't be glossed over--she saved American journalism--but the reader is so drawn into the development of her as a confident, commanding individual and her growth as a manager, that Watergate does not consume the book. In fact, she devotes perhaps equal time to the labor issues that bogged the business down in the 1970's.
Her humility is evident throughout the book. The references to power and greatness are inevitable; after all, how many Americans can have claimed to have lunched at Albert Einstein's house, been close friends with Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, and have summered with Nancy Reagan? Despite the references, she is impeccably honest in her assesment of people--a refreshing trait.
This is truly a remarkable read for anyone who truly wants to discover what makes a true leader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoying it thoroughly, June 18 2003
By 
Betsy De Gress (Ashland,OR United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
Given that this book won the P. Prize I wonder at all the negative reviews on this website. Personally, I am enjoying this book all the way. I wish it were longer. Viewing history through this woman's eyes has been fascinating and exciting for me. Kay Graham had a lot to cover and I admire that she did it with as much honesty and humility as she did. I enjoyed reading all the names she "dropped." I loved learning the inside scoop on LBJ, JFK, Truman Capote, Adlai Stevenson, Nixon, etc. etc. Reading this book also restored my faith in the process of progress in this country. After the Bush 2 "election" and the WTC catastrophe I became paranoid that my government had more power than it really does. I started wondering if there really was a "vast right wing conspiracy" well beyond anyone's control and if we were all doomed. This book restored my faith that it wasn't quite so tightly controlled as all that. Our government is and has been a snarled, chaotic soup but at least progress HAS been made and the press and people do have a voice. The government eventually listens. I also appreciated her candid assessment of herself and her family. She did a heroic job of seeing many emotional situations from both sides. Her progression from a shy, submissive daughter and wife to a woman of power was inspiring and exciting for me. No, this book is not perfect but I sure hate for it to end.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Can you imagine JFK coming to dinner?, Dec 15 2002
By 
Toshio Fukuhara (Yokohama, Japan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
This is a story about a life of a rich and privileged lady. It's a kind of life that few can relate to. Not only Ms. Graham routinely got invited to the White House functions but also the incumbent presidents of not your company but the United States of America dropped by every now and then for dinner at her mansion. Can you imagine JFK and Jacquie sitting at your dining table at home?
The memoir takes readers through how she endured and fought against life threatening pressure from the Nixon administration to sustain her media's freedom to report during the days of Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Without her "state of the art" support as publisher, as The Washington Post's former executive editor Ben Bradlee put it, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would not have been able to continue their state of the art investigative reporting. She sure surrounded herself with a lot of powerful and experienced friends whom she constantly sought advice to get over all those challenges she faced. Nontheless, considering her upbringing, I still don't understand exactly what made her so strong as a person.
To me, the book started out boring with her rich and privileged childhood, followed by her harsh and broken marriage, then the real reading pleasure and excitement started when and after she took over The Washington Post. I found her description on some of the heavy weights, such as Peter G. Peterson, Commerce Secretary under Nixon Administration, and Henry Kissinger, unique and interesting. But what surprised me most was how much (a lot) she set aside to describe her relationship, though nothing romantic, with a billionaire investor Warren Buffet. I learned so much about the second richest man in America as a person in her memoir.
In many ways, this memoir is complete with Ben Bradlee's "A Good Life" which is more concise and better edited.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of its Pulitzer, July 31 2002
By 
Graham Phillips (Westford, MA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
Katherine Graham's "Personal History" combines all of the necessary elements of biography to create an immensely entertaining and sometimes touching portrait of a fascinating woman. Her life was interesting enough that it would make a good story for even a mediocre author; but clearly Graham did not become the head of the Washington Post without learning the essence of a well turned phrase. Her witty and intelligent prose complements her captivating story and creates an autobiography worthy of its Pulitzer Prize.
I found Graham's story intriguing on three levels, the first of which is (as the title states) personal. Much of the first half of the book focuses on her family life, growing up in the extremely wealthy Meyer household, her relations with her parents, and eventually her meeting and marrying Phil Graham. All of the central characters are interesting, but I was personally struck by her discussion of her mother, Agnes Meyer, a woman both brilliant and driven, yet emotionally aloof from her family. Graham's candor respecting her mother is impressive. She admits at one point: "I can't say I think Mother genuinely loved us" (p. 51) and remembers that in turn her younger sister loved their governess more than Mrs. Meyer (p. 34). But Graham does not unfairly oversimplify her mother; she faithfully describes the true complexity of their relationship, admitting that resentment and love co-existed (p. 439). Graham does justice to everyone in her narrative and there simply isn't space enough here to describe fully all of the crucial characters.
The second level of interest (which dominates the latter half of the book) is the story of the Washington Post and the newspaper industry in general. Graham covers the major milestones of Post from her father's acquisition in 1933 to its current management by her son, Don. Graham herself was publisher during the most important years for the Post and describes three main events: the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the Pressmen's Strike in 1975. All three episodes are of interest, but I actually was most absorbed by the last. Graham clearly evokes the tension felt on all sides, and the great efforts made by those dedicated to continued publication who practically lived in the Post building. I was amazed to read that before they had repaired their own presses (smashed by the striking workers) they hired helicoptors to fly pages of type out to other publishers (p. 544). Watergate was also interesting. :)
The third captivating aspect of this book is its ability to connect the reader to the great figures of the 20th century through its empathetic protagonist. Katherine Graham knew seemingly every prominent individual and makes them seem more human than do textbooks or newsreel footage. When she was 11, she travelled to Europe where she met Albert Einstein: "He was simply grand! His hair is positively a nest..." (p. 41). She had dinners with John and Bobby Kennedy and her husband was partially responsible for LBJ's vice-presidency. In 1966 Truman Capote held a lavish and exclusive party at which Graham was the guest of honor. She clearly has respect for these celebrities and political leaders, but she also portrays them as what they were: human and fallible. I find this insider's perspective adds a great deal of flavor to history.
Do note that this is a sizable read, weighing in slightly over 600 pages. But as I hope this review conveyed, I found nearly all of those pages quite enjoyable. "Personal History" combines a fascinating life, excellent writing, and (most importantly) Graham's unflinching self-scrutiny. Sure to keep you reading!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not your typical coming-of-age story, June 30 2002
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Personal History (Paperback)
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. I don't agree with many of the positions Graham takes, and certainly she and I are light years apart in almost every aspect of background and experience, but I felt lucky that I was able to read this book. And I was also glad that she wrote it.
A book to read, and to give away as a gift.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Am amazing story ..., May 28 2002
By 
J. Cook "J Cook" (Frederick, Maryland United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Personal History (Hardcover)
This was a long book, but I wasn't bored at all.
I admire the honesty that Katherine Graham provides in this book. More honesty than I, as a private citizen, can imagine divulging in such a book, even though there is likely more detail that she didn't divulge.
It's enlightening to see that the rich are not really that much different than the rest of us. They have their own lives, no matter how screwed up, and in some cases her's was, but their wealth allows them to magnify what they can accomplish. From a business perspective, sinking so much money in The Washington Post early on must have seemed like a suicidial adventure. Having enough to live on, yet endure business strife, is an example of how wealth magnifies every-day and every-man tendencies. We do not wish to fail. No matter what.
Although many may argue that The Washington Post has a liberal leaning, I disagree. They print what they feel is important even when nobody else agrees. This is the significance to the Meyer family and, later, to the Graham family. They are human, with their own innate failings, but ultimately do right. What a life Katherine Graham had to endure! Both comfortable and complex.
Anyone would do well to read this autobiography. It's an invaluable insight into an important family and an important business to America. From profitability to the First Admendment, it's ultimately an American experience nowhere else available in the world.
Katherine Graham is an amazing woman. To grow up in such an atmosphere as to not know so many routine details of ordinary life, yet understand so many things that are not part of ordinary life.
You will be pleased by the book. Read it!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Katharine Graham: Moral Hero, April 25 2002
By 
This review is from: Personal History (Hardcover)
Katharine Graham: Job of the Journalism World
Whether they should have or not, the politics, journalism and social issues discussed in Katharine Graham's Autobiography captured little of my interest. However, what kept my attention through a very wordy 625-page book written by Katharine herself (who was thankfully just the editor of the Post and not a writer) was the moral fiber she displayed. Katharine never failed to remain tenacious, perseverant, and passionate in every venture of her life, both personally and professionally-even those most difficult for her.
Katharine experienced a major crisis in every aspect of her life. At home, Katharine loses a child in a miscarriage. Years later, her beloved husband, mentor and friend, Phil, becomes mentally unstable and commits suicide. Her daughter is divorced several times and Katharine loses the closeness with her two sons as a result of her headfirst dive into her work. At the Post, Katharine experiences the death of a President, the difficulty of having to run a corporation when she has no experience, and losing her entire staff (and a great deal of equipment) to a union strike. Throughout all of this, Katharine is able to remain focused and positive and hang on long enough to re-gather her bearings and start again. She moves on to fill the job Phil held, although she recognizes she will never do it as well. She backs the new president fully and helps him and his wife through a difficult time, and she gathers together family and friends to answer phones, write articles, and print papers so she can continue delivering the news to her subscribers. Katharine never gives up. Despite her aristocratic, ritzy upbringing, she is full of heart. It is very interesting that she cannot do laundry or cook her own meals, yet she can lead a corporation that came to be so influential in founding the policies and actions of journalism as we know them today.
Katharine says, "I had to come to realize that I could only do the job in whatever way I could do it" (341). This mindset is one of the greatest reasons Katharine was continually successful. She knew she her mothering skills would have made Dr. Spock cringe, however, she never stopped loving her children and being there for them the best way she knew how. At the Post, she says, "I was...uneducated in even the basics of the working world-how to relate to people professionally, how to tell people things that they might not want to hear, how to give praise as well as criticism, hw to use time to the best effect. Things that people learned automatically in the workplace or in graduate schools..." (343). This never stopped her, and although she admitted over and over again that she had no idea what she was doing and felt "as I've walked on stage for a part I've never rehearsed," Katharine threw herself into learning and trying, a formula which eventually led to success (354). Her humble attitude caused people to want to help her, and Katharine felt that she needed to know the workings of every part of the Post intimately, so she started from the bottom up, learning how each component functioned and fit together to produce the paper. This knowledge was of great value later on, for a multiple of reasons. The "lower end" employees respected Katharine because they felt she understood them and valued their contributions. Also, when the union strike occurred, Katharine had to take over every part of production herself, and because of the time she had spent learning, she was educated enough to produce the Post herself with limited assistance. Even though Katharine often knew her work was inferior to the job others could do, she recognized a need for her to step in, she took the challenge, and she gave all she could. Eventually, this proved to be enough as Katharine's success blossomed over time.
Katharine's daughter described her mother's strengths as, "good judgment, ability to get along with people, earn their respect and discern their strengths and weaknesses" (342). All of these qualities were not things that Katharine felt she started out with after Phil died and she took over the Post. However, each time Katharine held on during a difficult situation and persevered when it would have been easier to quit, she gained another valuable skill to add to her repertoire. When these added up over time, they came to mold Katharine into an experienced, well-balanced career woman who would never fail because she would not allow herself to. This, combined with the passion Katharine always threw into her work, caused her to be one of the most charismatic individuals in the history of journalism, and also politics.
Katharine Graham impacts my life in perhaps a very different way than other readers. I envy her ability to hang on even in the worst situations. Besides merely staying in the game, Katharine found ways to uses these circumstances as opportunities to grow as a person and develop more knowledge and skills. I am motivated by her character and find her tenacity and strong-will inspiring.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Resiliency and Emotional Toughness of the Self-Taught CEO, Dec 10 2001
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(#1 HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Personal History (Hardcover)
Ms. Katharine Graham's autobiography explores many dimensions of life that will appeal to readers: lifestyles of the rich and famous with her celebrity and society friends; an inside look at one of America's most powerful and famous families in the 20th century; overcoming the personal tragedy of being married to a brilliant, manic-depressive cheater who was nasty to her; a history of the rise of the Washington Post from a minor D.C. paper to the top ranks of international journalism; becoming the head of a family that had been dominated by strong personalities who had put her in a supporting role; seeing the interactions of the press with presidents up close; and learning to be a female publisher and CEO on the job with almost no prior experience.
If you are like me, you will find the sections of the book about her growing up as Andre Meyer's daughter, Watergate, the strike with the pressman's union at the Post, and her relationship with Warren Buffett to be the most interesting parts of the book.
If, like me, you decide that you find Ms. Graham appealing, it will probably be because of her willingness to do the right thing, even when very painful and dangerous to her, and her loyalty to others . . . even when that loyalty may not have been earned. Even to her enemies, she held out olive branches to keep lines of communication open . . . which were often rejected.
Although the book is candid about her own failings (having been too sheltered as a child and wife, making lots of mistakes in picking and working with people at the Washington Post Company, and being too accepting of male chauvinism) and family members who are deceased (especially her father, mother, and husband), she pulls back from any significant observations about many of her friends and acquaintances who are still living. You will see these people primarily from the perspective of having been lunch and dinner companions and guests. A curtain of privacy is also pulled over long sections of her life. For example, you will find out the names of the people and the yacht that she disappeared on for several weeks, but nothing about what occurred.
On the other hand, CEO autobiographies usually toot the horn of the CEO. The closest this one comes to tooting is quoting Warren Buffett in pointing out that Washington Post Company stock grew more than double the rate of any other similar company during the time when she was CEO. Actually, even that observation is modest. As measured by stock-price performance, Ms. Graham is one of the great CEOs of the 20th century.
She has also left behind a legacy of commitment to a free press from the Pentagon Papers publication and the Watergate exposures that will stand as a beacon for future publishers. In either case, she could have lost the bulk of her wealth and influence had things turned out differently. Most CEOs would be reluctant to take those kinds of risks in the public interest. Certainly, there was no financial windfall to taking these courses. It was simply the right thing to do. Thank you, Ms. Graham!
Have you ever been in a situation where you were supposed to know how to do something, but had no clue? Throughout her business career, Ms. Graham was placed in that awkward situation. Towards the end of the book, she reveals that she wished that she had attended Harvard Business School. Throughout her business career, Ms. Graham reveals here feeling like a fraud and not knowing what questions to ask. But in business, it's usually more important what you do than what you know. And she kept moving forward until she found a method that worked. That kind of perseverance takes great moral courage, and I was impressed to realize just how much more difficult her accomplishments were to achieve than they seemed to outsiders.
Where should you be taking a more active role in choosing your life's direction? Where should you be more understanding of friends and family members? Where should you keep the lines of communications open? Where should you draw the line at accommodation?
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