Events Leading Up to My Death: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Reporter

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Editorial Reviews

Mary Carroll
History buffs and journalism junkies will relish Smith's gracefully written, cover-the-waterfront memoir. From his shabbily genteel childhood (in the same small Louisiana town that gave the world Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mickey Gilley) through Tulane, then Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, reporting for United Press on Hitler's Germany before World War II, and a 40-year broadcasting career with CBS and later ABC, Smith intelligently observed and commented--often controversially--on most of the key developments of the past six decades. If the Kennedy and Nixon years are the periods on which former "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradley's best-selling "A Good Life" sheds the most light, Smith's autobiography is most revealing in its analysis of Europe from the '30s through the '50s, the U.S. civil rights struggle (which precipitated Smith's acrimonious 1961 departure from CBS), and LBJ and the Vietnam War era, when Smith's strong opinions often angered his journalist friends as well as TV viewers. One need not agree with these opinions to value Smith's knowledgeable insider perspective and generally thoughtful commentary.
Kirkus Reviews
From eminent journalist Smith, an intimate, wistful, eloquently narrated, and wry look back at the 20th century, and at his own extraordinary life.

Raised in genteel poverty in the Louisiana backwoods and in New Orleans by parents trapped in a loveless marriage, Smith entered the wider world when he won a Rhodes scholarship. His time in England became a springboard to a job reporting for the United Press in Germany. Smith witnessed firsthand Berlin during the heady last months before the onset of war, the invasion of Poland, and the fall of France. Impoverished on his UP salary and determined to distinguish himself as a journalist, Smith joined CBS as a broadcaster and tried to tell the American people about Nazi Germany, despite relentless censorship by the German authorities. Eventually, he was forbidden to broadcast and barred from leaving the country. Through a subterfuge by CBS, he was able to enter Switzerland on December 6, 1941. In two years there, the reporter became a national figure and authored an important book (Last Train from Berlin). After the war, Smith became chief European correspondent for CBS, later an anchor for ABC, and covered the Nuremberg trial, the Kennedy-Nixon debates, and the civil rights movement. While reflecting on great events, Smith never forgets that this is primarily a personal memoir; in particular, he tells of his full bachelor's life in wartime Berlin, which culminated in his meeting Benedicte (Bennie) Traberg, a beautiful Dane who became his wife. Considering the tumultuous changes in his 78 years and America's remarkable constancy of purpose in foreign policy throughout the Cold War era, Smith concludes that "Americans by and large will do what needs to be done and make the sacrifice entailed."

In his text, as in his life, Smith proves his adeptness at "the first rough drafting of history." Among the recent plethora of commentaries and reminiscences about the American century, Smith's is a standout.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780737226683
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 419

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