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Book Review: Chasing History

By Robert McCool
Icon Columnist

“A kid in the newsroom” is the subtitle of Carl Bernstein's new book, a memoir of his start in journalism. Chasing History (Thorndike Press, ISBN- 13: 978-4328-9865-6) is Bernstein's account of his own history during a most interesting time in our country's historically turbulent 1950s and early ‘60s.

The time frame starts while Eisenhower is president and John F. Kennedy is a senator. Richard Nixon is vice president. The country is stagnant because of Eisenhower's tired style of ruling, after World War II's intensity and death toll.

Racism is an issue, with the country still living with Jim Crow laws. Blacks are still not free nor equal to whites. Segregation simmers in all places and schools refuse to integrate, even after a legislated rule says different. Later, marches begin to occur in the south, birthing the Freedom Riders. This is the issue that Bernstein takes on as his own early in his employment at the Washington Star newspaper.

The book is more than a remembrance, it's a primer on how a newspaper functions, with Bernstein starting as a runner when he is just sixteen. The lessons in journalism and publishing pull us along as it did the author. His goal, his mission, is to become a reporter, which he desires more than graduating high school (he did), or getting a college education (he didn't). His education is in ink and deadlines. Taken into the machine that tells the news to the U.S. capital, Washington DC, he is a quick study and a quicker typist, so he climbs up the hierarchy, first as a copy boy. He continues rising in the ranks and following the segregation issue. He will do so until he is twenty, becoming a seasoned reporter following the great struggle of  blacks seeking equality.

Bernstein is a newsman and he writes like a newsman. He covers the who, what, when, where and why as he writes his intimate tale of the people who helped him or who thwarted his efforts. And he does drop names all the way through the book. He knows scores of great people and makes no bones about naming names and what they did.

He worked the Kennedy presidential election, his blockade of Cuba and the Russian mission threat, Kennedy's handling of the growing equal-rights movement, and his assassination. He follows Johnson's emergence as a new president who must still deal with segregation and the escalating Vietnam war.

This book is also the chronicle of a great newspaper's life, and its downfall when the Washington Post takes over the Star's rival newspaper and grows exponentially. Remember, Bernstein went to work at the Washington Post where he and co-worker Bob Woodward reported the Watergate crimes.

A poignant search for the truth is in all the stories he wrote, and in this book, what Carl Bernstein portrays is his work as a newspaper man. That truth is seen throughout this book, and it is an enjoyable read.


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