Pulitzer: A Life

Overview

This intriguing biography of one of the most monumental and controversial figures in publishing history is filled with fascinating stories of the Hungarian emigrant's rise from a practically penniless soldier in the Union army to U.S. congressman, and, finally, to the pinnacle of American journalism -- and power -- as the owner of two of the country's preeminent newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York World.

Including new personal information about Pulitzer's public...

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Overview

This intriguing biography of one of the most monumental and controversial figures in publishing history is filled with fascinating stories of the Hungarian emigrant's rise from a practically penniless soldier in the Union army to U.S. congressman, and, finally, to the pinnacle of American journalism -- and power -- as the owner of two of the country's preeminent newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York World.

Including new personal information about Pulitzer's public and private life culled from his own correspondence and interviews, this absorbing book reveals how he transformed the New York World into one of the nation's most influential and respected papers and inaugurated the era of the modern popular press and a "new journalism" that mixed sensational stunts, entertaining stories, and cartoons with serious financial, foreign, and political news, as well as editorial campaigns that helped to change the course of history.

Also revealed here are the intriguing details of the frantic Pulitzer-Hearst circulation battle during the Spanish-American War; how Pulitzer, struck blind at forty, continued to run his empire for twenty-two more years with the aid of a coterie of extraordinary secretaries, to champion the underdog, expose corrupt insurance companies and crooked politicians, and to fight injustice wherever he found it; how he was a pioneer in hiring women reporters -- including Nellie Bly, uncovered James Blaine's shady deals to assure Grover Cleveland's victory, led the campaign to erect the Statute of Liberty, defied President Theodore Roosevelt's attempt to imprison him for criminal libel, and founded the Columbia School of Journalism.

The result is a frank and unique insider view of the man whose courage, high principles, original thinking, and driving ambition despite incredible obstacles have earned him his place as the "Father of American Journalism" and whose influence has left an indelible mark on a culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Everyone's familiar with the Pulitzer Prizes, awarded each year for outstanding achievement in the fields of literature, music, dance, and journalism. But how much do we know about the man responsible for establishing them? Denis Brian has used previously unknown information about the legendary journalist's private and public life to create this portrait of the Hungarian immigrant who became one of the most influential American newsmen ever. Brian expounds on many facets of Pulitzer's life and legend, including his circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst, his struggle with the loss of his eyesight at 40, his groundbreaking hiring of women to fill key positions, and his founding of the Columbia School of Journalism.
From the Publisher
A well-told life of the early media tycoon, whose influence-though not his empire-has endured to the present.
Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) lived a life that, in the words of biographer Brian (Einstein: A Life, 1996), "often resembled a fable." At 17, he crossed the waters to American, enticed to join the flagging Union Army in exchange for a bounty and citizenship; just before landing in Boston, he jumped ship, swam across the icy harbor, and presented himself directly to the enlistment officers so that he would not have to split the bounty with the agent who recruited him. Charming and well-educated, he easily won his commanders' trust. After the war, penniless and without prospects, he made his way to St. Louis, where he worked his way up from gravedigger and laborer to reporter for a German-language daily. In 1878 he bought the ailing St. Louis Post-Dispatch for $2,500 and started making a name for himself as a publisher. A born muckraker, he magnified minor-league tales to scandalous proportions, insisting that he was serving the public good by revealing the misdeeds of the powerful and influential. (An example: A minister who had just taken a swig of cold medicine took a seat on a streetcar. The young woman next to him, offended by the smell of alcohol, took another seat. End of story-but the Post-Dispatch's headline? "A Shocking Story of a Divine.") The reporters Pulitzer hired, among them Nellie Bly, Stephen Crane, and Irwin S. Cobb, served him well as he went head-to-head with ferociously anti-Semitic rival publisher William Randolph Hearst, played at king-making, warmongering, and politics, and made a huge fortune with which he endowed the prize that bears name, as well as Columbia University's famed School of Journalism.
A solid biography, of interest to student of journalism and American history. (Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2001)

Joseph Pulitzer emigrated to the United States from his native Hungary in 1864 for a bounty offered by Union army recruiters. Discharged in 1865, he made his way to St. Louis, where with little command of English at the start, he got involved in local politics, entered the newspaper business, and eventually gained control of the Post-Dispatch. In 1883, he bought the New York World, then revolutionized American journalism and became wealthy through his sensational approach to the news and his grasp of the entertainment role of newspapers. Highly eccentric, a near-invalid for much of his life, Pulitzer is a marvelous subject of biography. Yet Brian, author of Einstein: A Life and other biographical works, has not done a marvelous job with his material. Readers will find a patchy narrative, which too often treats Pulitzer simply as a character, without insight into his person or perspective on his era. W.A. Swanberg's Putlizer (1967) is a better book, and David Nasaw's biography of Pulitzer's great contemporary and rival, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (LJ 6/1/00), a much better book. An optional purchase for journalism collections. —Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH

"...Brian's book is a chronicle more than a biography, taking an uncritical approach to the self-conscious myth-making of its sources..." (Sunday Telegraph, 11 November, 2001)

"By introducing Pulitzer to a new century's readers, this entertaining volume will break a silence not even Pulitzer could have tolerated" (Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 2001)

"...Denis Brian...writes fluently an intelligently and draws sensible connections between Pulitzer's life and American political history. The text is richly loaded with detail and anecdote. The illustrations, which include press cuttings, are lavish and useful...a loud and arresting story." (Scotland on Sunday, 18 November, 2001)

"...meticulously researched biography...Brian writes with energy and pace..." (The Observer, 2 December 2001)

"...It is a big story, and it is told here with panache by Denis Brian.... He [Pulitzer] was a momental individual, and fully deserves the big, gripping, richly detailed biography Brian has written..." (Financial Times, 8 December 2001)

"...Brian writes with energy and pace..." (The Guardian Weekly, 13 December 2001)

"...peppered with anecdotes and examples form his newspapers, Pulitzer: A Life shines a light on a fascinating period in American history..." (Manchester Evening News 21 December 2001)

"a dizzyingly detailed but engaging biography...we have Mr. Brian's biography to remind us of the real man." (Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2002)

"The book is well written and reads more like a novel than a biography." (Marxist Review, February 2002)

"...makes a great read..." (The News Line, 20 February 2002)

Publishers Weekly
Without question, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer lived a notable life. Born in 1847 in Hungary, he traveled to the U.S. as a teenager to fight for pay in the Civil War. He learned English, became a lawyer, got involved in politics and later in journalism. He bought the struggling St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then turned the New York World into a superb daily newspaper by upholding the following fool-proof tenet: "cater to the masses and earn their trust." By the time of his death in 1911, Pulitzer had achieved global fame. Unfortunately, Brian delivers a largely warmed-over version of Pulitzer's life. In the acknowledgments, Brian (biographer of J.B. Rhine, Ernest Hemingway and Albert Einstein) thanks previous chroniclers of Pulitzer's life. If Brian's study contains anything of significance missed by those biographers, it is well hidden. The endnotes only occasionally mention primary documents (such as the many extant letters to and from Pulitzer), citing instead, over and over, earlier books about the publisher. Brian details Pulitzer's big newspaper stories, such as "A Dastard's Deed: Cold-Blooded Treachery at Last Conquers Jesse James," concerning the official price on James's head and the confidante who betrayed him. Though interesting, the rehashed news stories don't make for a meaty biography. In 1994, Brian published a book about the life-writing craft that is relentlessly critical of prominent biographers; the title was Fair Game: What Biographers Don't Tell You. Here, Brian fails to tell readers why they should read this highly derivative biography. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Joseph Pulitzer emigrated to the United States from his native Hungary in 1864 for a bounty offered by Union army recruiters. Discharged in 1865, he made his way to St. Louis, where with little command of English at the start, he got involved in local politics, entered the newspaper business, and eventually gained control of the Post-Dispatch. In 1883, he bought the New York World, then revolutionized American journalism and became wealthy through his sensational approach to the news and his grasp of the entertainment role of newspapers. Highly eccentric, a near-invalid for much of his life, Pulitzer is a marvelous subject for biography. Yet Brian, author of Einstein: A Life and other biographical works, has not done a marvelous job with his material. Readers will find a patchy narrative, which too often treats Pulitzer simply as a character, without insight into his person or perspective on his era. W.A. Swanberg's Pulitzer is a better book, and David Nasaw's biography of Pulitzer's great contemporary and rival, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, a much better book. An optional purchase for journalism collections. Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-told life of the early media tycoon, whose influence-though not his empire-has endured to the present. Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) lived a life that, in the words of biographer Brian (Einstein: A Life), "often resembled a fable." At 17, he crossed the waters to America, enticed to join the flagging Union Army in exchange for a bounty and citizenship; just before landing in Boston, he jumped ship, swam across the icy harbor, and presented himself directly to the enlistment officers so that he would not have to split the bounty with the agent who recruited him. Charming and well-educated, he easily won his commanders' trust. After the war, penniless and without prospects, he made his way to St. Louis, where he worked his way up from gravedigger and laborer to reporter for a German-language daily. In 1878 he bought the ailing St. Louis Post-Dispatch for $2,500 and started making a name for himself as a publisher. A born muckraker, he magnified minor-league tales to scandalous proportions, insisting that he was serving the public good by revealing the misdeeds of the powerful and influential. (An example: A minister who had just taken a swig of cold medicine took a seat on a streetcar. The young woman next to him, offended by the smell of alcohol, took another seat. End of story-but the Post-Dispatch's headline? "A Shocking Story of a Divine.") The reporters Pulitzer hired, among them Nellie Bly, Stephen Crane, and Irwin S. Cobb, served him well as he went head-to-head with ferociously anti-Semitic rival publisher William Randolph Hearst, played at king-making, warmongering, and politics, and made a huge fortune with which he endowed the prize that bears his name, as well as Columbia University's famed School of Journalism. A solid biography, of interest to students of journalism and American history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471332008
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: Joseph Pulitzer and His "Indegoddampendent" World 1
1 The Fighting Immigrant 5
2 Upright, Spirited, and Dangerous 15
3 Survives Fire and Marries 21
4 Buys St. Louis Post-Dispatch 31
5 President Garfield Assassinated 40
6 Jesse James "Shot Like a Dog" 51
7 Pulitzer Takes Over the World 63
8 Puts a Democrat in the White House 79
9 Saves Statute of Liberty 97
10 Haymarket Square Massacre 110
11 Nellie Bly Goes Crazy 120
12 Tries to Save His Sight 133
13 "An Instrument of Justice, a Terror to Crime" 139
14 Nellie Bly Races around the World 144
15 Running the World by Remote Control 158
16 Pulitzer's "Satanic Journalism" 169
17 Prevents War between the United States and Britain 184
18 Fighting Crime and William Randolph Hearst 196
19 War Fever 213
20 Americans at War in Cuba 226
21 For the Boers, against the British 244
22 "Accuracy! Accuracy!! Accuracy!!!" 252
23 President McKinley Assassinated 266
24 "Find a Man Who Gets Drunk and Hire Him" 275
25 Euphemisms for Abortion 282
26 Breaking In Frank Cobb 288
27 Unmasking Corrupt Insurance Companies 299
28 "I Liked the Way He Swore" 310
29 Protesting Jingo Agitation 322
30 Secret Double Life of Rockefeller's Father 331
31 Roosevelt Tries to Send Pulitzer to Prison 343
32 "The Big Man of All American Newspapers" 350
33 Roosevelt Seeks Revenge 359
34 Victory! 370
35 The Last Days 383
36 The Aftermath 391
Notes 397
Bibliography 419
Index 423
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

The Fighting Immigrant 1864-1869

17 to 22 years old

Seventeen-year-old Joseph Pulitzer couldn’t take it anymore. He adored his mother, but got into so many fierce arguments with his stepfather that he was desperate to leave home. A military career seemed a way of escape. He was prepared, as it turned out, to fight for almost any country that would accept him. Joseph was born in Mako, Hungary, on April 10, 1847, the eldest son of Hungarian Jews. His father, Philip, a prosperous grain merchant, retired in 1853 and moved with his family to Budapest, where Joseph and his younger brother, Albert, were educated in private schools and by a tutor who taught them French and German. When Joseph was eleven his father died of heart disease, and a few years later his beloved mother, Louise, married Max Blau, a businessman—the man Joseph had grown to hate.

The scrawny, almost six-foot-three-inch tall, high-strung teenager looked as martial as a beanpole. Yet he hoped to follow in the footsteps of two of his maternal uncles, officers in the Austrian Army. But when the Austrian Army rejected him for his weak eyesight and emaciated appearance, he was unde-terred. He traveled to Paris to join the French Foreign Legion for service in Mexico. When the French declined his offer, he crossed the Channel to En-gland, where he volunteered to serve with the British forces in India. Again, fail-ure. Bitterly disappointed, he reluctantly headed for home, stopping en route in Hamburg, Germany. And there he met his destiny.

Shortly before, in America in the summer of 1863, U.S. President Abra-ham Lincoln, his country torn by civil war, his army depleted by casualties, dis-ease, and desertions, had planned to turn stalemate into checkmate by a mass attack against the Confederacy. Lincoln intended to bolster his weakened army by drafting three hundred thousand men from New York City alone. But many of the eligible males there were recent Irish and German immigrants who lived in squalor and didn’t give a damn who won the war.

In resisting the draft, they looted and torched draft-office buildings and prevented firemen from dousing the flames. Motley groups of policemen and convalescing soldiers were sent to quell the riot. They had orders to take no prisoners and kill every man who had a club. But they were overwhelmed by the mob: beaten, stabbed, kicked to death, or shot with their own muskets. Sur-vivors retreated in panic from a barrage of bricks, stones, and dead animals. Responding to anguished cries to save the city, the army hurried thousands of battle-scarred Union troops with field guns and howitzers to take back con-trol of Manhattan’s streets. For men who refused to join the army, the rioters proved fierce fighters: some two thousand died, and about ten thousand were wounded. After this tragic fiasco, Union Army agents looked for urgently needed recruits in less dangerous territory, especially Europe, under the guise of encouraging emigration.

Languishing in Hamburg after his failed missions to join any of three armies, Pulitzer met one of the Union recruiting agents. Assured that he could ride a horse and fire a gun, the agent put the unlikely recruit aboard a Boston-bound ship.

The gangling, nearsighted youngster soon showed his spirit and audacity by jumping ship in Boston Harbor, swimming ashore through almost freezing water, and taking a train to New York. There he collected the three-hundred-dollar bounty for enlisting—which otherwise would have gone to the agent he’d outsmarted. But when Pulitzer arrived at Remount Camp, Pleasant Val-ley, Maryland, on November 12, 1864, the captain in charge took one jaun-diced glance at him and, according to biographer Don Carlos Seitz, who pre-sumably got it from Pulitzer himself, yelled, “Take that . . . little . . . away from here! I don’t want him in my company!”

He stayed, despite the frigid reception, and spent the rest of the war in L Company of the First New York Lincoln Cavalry. Taking their cue from the captain, fellow soldiers ridiculed his appearance, inadequate English, and guttural accent, although many of them were of German origin. Some took his name (pronounced Pull-it-sir) as an invitation to grab his large nose. When a sergeant tried it, Pulitzer struck him hard—the only injury he inflicted in the war.

Saved from a court-martial for striking a superior by an officer who admired his prowess at chess, he took part in minor skirmishes on horseback against the enemy at Antioch, Liberty Mills, Waynesborough, and Beaverdam Flat, ending the war in the comparatively peaceful Shenandoah Valley as a Major Richard Hinton’s orderly.

After Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Pulitzer rode with his regiment for the victory parade in Washington on May 23, 1865, his view of General William Tecumseh Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton taking the salute completely blocked by the men riding their horses so close beside him that they bruised his knees.

What now? Certainly not a military career.

Competition for jobs among Civil War veterans was desperate. In Manhat-tan, a city of astonishing contrasts, about fifteen thousand panhandlers worked the streets, some hiring deformed babies to raise their take. A district known as Five Points on the Lower East Side, crammed with desperately poor immi-grants, depraved criminals, and prostitutes, scared even the police away.

Nearby was another world, a booming, war-fueled Wall Street, mansions, flour-ishing businesses, and affluent individuals window-shopping on Broadway. Realizing he stood less chance of emulating them than of joining the Hell’s Kitchen crowd, which welcomed army veterans, Pulitzer, a good sailor, fol-lowed a tip and traveled to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to apply for a deck-hand’s job on a whaler. But the whaling industry had not recovered from its destruction by Confederate cruisers, and the only ship’s captain seeking a crew turned him down.

Despite the odds against him, he returned to New York City, where Irish immigrants had a lock on jobs for waiters, laborers, longshoremen, and other employment requiring some English. Though—thanks to his successful grain-merchant father, Philip—Pulitzer had been well educated by tutors and was fluent in German, French, and Hungarian, his English was all but incoherent. Unable to pay to rent a room, he was reduced to sleeping in the streets in his frayed army uniform and scuffed shoes, some nights on a bench in City Hall Park.

With his last few cents he walked into the luxurious French’s Hotel for a morale-raising shoeshine. But a porter thought he might offend the snooty clientele and told him to beat it. (Pulitzer’s life often resembled a fable. Twenty-three years later he bought that same French’s Hotel, had it demol-ished, and replaced it with the tallest building in the city—a two-million-dollar golden-domed skyscraper to house his newspaper offices.) Having his topcoat stolen was the last straw: he decided to check out and head for St. Louis, Missouri. Some joker had advised him that unlike Manhat-tan, crowded with German immigrants after the same nonexistent jobs, there weren’t any Germans in St. Louis. Pulitzer also liked the idea that in a German-free environment he would have to learn English fast—or starve.

Unaware that he’d been fooled—St. Louis had a huge German popula-tion— he sold his only capital, a silk handkerchief, for seventy-five cents to buy food for the long journey. Then he took a train west, as a stowaway, arriving on the night of October 10, 1865, at East St. Louis, across the river from St. Louis. (The railroad bridge to reach St. Louis was not completed until 1874.) He got off the train, broke, tired, and shivering with cold. A downpour of sleety rain soaked him to the skin. But he hardly noticed it. For him the shim-mering lights in the distance, barely visible through the curtain of rain across the Mississippi River, were not just the lights of a city but of a promised land. Attracted by the voices of deckhands on a ferryboat and puzzled to hear them speaking German, Pulitzer walked to the riverbank and asked how to get across without paying. He was lucky. Their fireman had just quit. Could the young man fire a boiler?

“In my condition I was willing to say anything and do anything,” he recalled. One deckhand “put a shovel in my hand and told me to throw some coal on the fire. I opened the fire box door and a blast of fiery hot air struck me in the face. At the same time a blast of cold driven rain struck me in the back. I was roasting in front and freezing in the back. But I stuck to the job and shov-eled coal as hard as I could.” The captain resented his limited and awkward English, bullied him, and worked him to exhaustion. After a few days the harsh talk escalated into a vio-lent quarrel, and Pulitzer walked off the boat for good—into St. Louis. He later told his biographer Seitz, “I still have a painful recollection of firing that ferry-boat with its blasts of hot air on my face, and the rain and snow beating down on my back.”

After renting a room, he headed for the nearest library, where he read in the want ads of a local German-language newspaper, Westliche Post, that an army barracks needed a caretaker for sixteen mules, pay to include free meals. Ex-cavalryman were preferred.

The weather turned unexpectedly hot as he walked the four miles to the barracks, discovered he’d left his discharge papers behind, ran to get them from his room, then ran back, panting and sweating. He was hired, but not for long. The food was inedible and the mules impossible. He stood it for two days, then quit.

Then he took almost anything he could get: as a deckhand, laborer, steve-dore, hack driver—all poorly paid, dead-end jobs. The “promised land” was becoming a mirage. However, he did learn enough English to work as a waiter at Tony Faust’s restaurant, where at least he had bright surroundings, but all too briefly. Apparently he couldn’t balance his tray and was fired for dropping a juicy steak onto a good customer.

When, on his next job as a laborer, the foreman who paid his wages failed to turn up with the cash, Pulitzer, now nineteen, struggled with a moral dilemma: How could he face his landlady without the room rent? He knew no one well enough to borrow the money, and had just ten cents in his pocket. He solved the problem by sleeping under the stars after eating a dime’s worth of apples. The next day the foreman had recovered from a brief illness and appeared with Pulitzer’s wages. That evening, when he handed over the rent a day late and explained his “disappearance” from bed and board, his landlady teased him for being too sensitive. But he made sure there was no repeat per-formance by saving money for rent from moonlighting.

Working sixteen-hour days at two jobs, he was still so anxious to master English quickly that he also spent four hours in the local library—leaving fewer than four hours for sleep. Between temporary jobs he almost lived in the library. Each morning he waited impatiently on the library steps for librarian Udo Bachvogel to open up, kept reading all through lunchtime while munch-ing apples, and only left in the evening just as the doors were being locked. Udo helped him with English conversation, and they became friends for life. But a chance encounter with a scam artist—not his hard labor—put him on the road to his remarkable career. With some forty others he paid five dol-lars to this smooth talker, who promised good jobs on a Louisiana sugar planta-tion, shipped them by steamboat to a desolate spot forty miles south of St. Louis, and dumped them. Realizing they had been taken, they began to trudge back to the city, resolved to murder the man. “Whether or not this reckless pro-gram would have been carried out it is impossible to say,” according to biogra-pher Alleyne Ireland, “for when, three days later, the ragged army arrived in the city, worn out with fatigue and half dead from hunger, the agent had decamped.”

By chance a reporter, who had heard something of the story, met Pulitzer and persuaded him to write an account of the scam. It was published in the Westliche Post, the German-language paper through which he had landed his first civilian job.

Pulitzer’s energy, intelligence, and way with words appealed to its part owner and coeditor, Dr. Emil Preetorius, who started to give him writing assignments. Eventually other tenants in the Post building sensed something worth cultivating in the intense, driven young man, especially attorneys William Patrick and Charles Johnson, and physician Joseph McDowell. Dr. McDowell asked him to help in the summer of 1866 when a cholera epidemic terrorized St. Louis, killing 1,686 residents in two weeks. More than a quarter of the population of 260,000 fled the city. Victims of the disease were to be buried on dreaded Arsenal Island, and Dr. McDowell was appointed health officer for the area. Piles of corpses awaited burial because officials in charge of the job had panicked and left for the mainland. Though McDowell had known Pulitzer for only a few months, he recommended him to be in charge on Arsenal Island. Pulitzer found the place almost deserted, even by the convicted murderers from prisons on the mainland who had been prom-ised their freedom if they helped to bury the dead. Some had taken advan-tage of the offer, only to escape to unknown parts. Pulitzer stayed, helped to bury many of the cholera victims, and also kept the records. When the epi-demic was over in October, having killed 3,527 in St. Louis, he was again in need of a job.

The two attorneys in the newspaper building pointed him toward work in wild Ozark country for a railroad company in the early stages of incorporation. He rode there with a black aide. Both men were swept from their horses while trying to cross the flooded Gasconade River. The aide and his horse sadly drowned, but Pulitzer, a strong swimmer, and his horse survived. He dragged himself up the bank, drenched to the skin and worried by the prospect of having to catch his mount, which had started off on a cross-country gallop. Then he saw an elderly farmer sitting on a tree stump, watching him with intense interest.

“The first thing he did,” said Pulitzer, “was to take me to the farmhouse and hand me a tumbler three parts full of whisky. When I refused this he looked at me as though he thought I was mad. ‘Yer mean to tell me yer don’t drink?’ he said. When I told him no, I didn’t, he said nothing, but brought me food. After I had eaten he pulled out a plug of tobacco, bit off a large piece, and offered the plug to me. I thanked him but declined. It took him some time to get over that, but at last he said: ‘Yer mean to tell me yer don’t chew?’ I said no, I didn’t. He dropped the subject, and for an hour or so we talked about the war and the crops and the proposed railroad. That man was a gentleman. He didn’t take another drink or another chew of tobacco all the time. Finally, before he went to bed, he produced a pipe, filled it, and handed the tobacco to me; but I failed him again, and he put his own pipe back in his pocket, firmly but sorrowfully.

“Well, my God! It was nearly half an hour before he spoke again, and I was beginning to think that I had really wounded his feelings by declining his hos-pitable offers, when he came over and stood in front of me with an expression of profound pity. ‘Young feller,’ he said, ‘you seem to be right smart and able for a furriner, but let me tell you, you’ll never make a successful American until yer learn to drink, and chew, and smoke.’ ”

Next morning, having dried his clothes and caught his horse, Pulitzer started to work for what would become the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. It required him to master complicated articles of incorporation involving twelve counties, which he later recorded from memory. This feat so amazed the lawyers who had steered him to the job that they encouraged him to become a lawyer, letting him study at a desk in their office and giving him a free run of their law library.

He took time off on March 6, 1867, to visit St. Louis’s Court of Criminal Correction, where he renounced his allegiance to the emperor of Austria and became an American citizen.

Shortly after, his sixteen-year-old brother, Albert, left Hungary to join him in St. Louis. Having already taught himself English, Albert soon got work teaching German to local high school students. Joseph was a remarkably quick study. The following year, in 1868, he was admitted to the bar and became a notary public. But handicapped by his youth—he was now twenty-one—odd appearance, scruffy clothes, and still im-perfect English, he attracted few clients and none of consequence. One, a ferryboat captain who wanted some documents sealed, immediately recog-nized him as the youngster he had hired to stoke the boiler on his boat. “He stopped short,” Pulitzer recalled, “as if he had seen a ghost and said, ‘Say, ain’t you the damned cuss that I fired off my boat?’ I told him yes, I was. He was the most surprised man I ever saw, but after he had sworn himself hoarse he faced the facts and gave me his business.’ ”

Despite his apparent failure as a lawyer, Pulitzer caught the attention of Carl Schurz, the high-principled other coeditor and co-owner of the influential and prosperous Westliche Post. As a youth in Germany, Schurz had been inspired to become a revolutionary by Gottfried Kinkel, his art history professor at the University of Bonn. In 1848 Kinkel founded the newspaper Democratic Union, which Schurz helped him to edit, and a year later they both joined an uprising against the oppressive Prussian government.

Prussian troops captured Kinkel, who was sentenced to life in Spandau Prison. Schurz escaped arrest by hiding in a sewer. Then he risked his life to free Kinkel by traveling on a false passport to Berlin, where he persuaded a sympathetic prison guard to lower Kinkel by rope to the ground. Waiting nearby with a horse and carriage, Schurz eventually helped Kinkel reach Scot-land. After escaping from Germany himself, Schurz landed in England, where he married. He and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1856. As a political activist, Schurz had enthusiastically campaigned for Lincoln, who, in 1861, had appointed him minister to Spain. Schurz had hardly arrived in Madrid when he turned back to fight in the Civil War as a Union major gen-eral. He led his mostly German American troops at Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga, and fought alongside Sherman in North Caro-lina. Idolized by his men, Schurz in turn idolized Lincoln.

After the war, although Schurz devoted more time to politics than to the Westliche Post, he did discuss the paper’s need for a new reporter with his part-ner, Preetorius, and the city editor, Louis Willich. They eventually agreed on a short list: either Pulitzer, inexperienced but promising, or a veteran reporter named Ahrenberg. Willich had his own agenda. Afraid that the experienced man might covet his job and unseat him, he put in a strong plug for hiring the “harmless” Pulitzer—and prevailed. “I could not believe it,” Pulitzer recalled years later. “I, the unknown, the luckless, almost a boy of the streets, selected for such responsibility—it all seemed like a dream.”

But it was a nightmare for Willich. He had chosen the wrong man. Pulitzer willingly worked nonstop all day and night and into the next morning, turned in reams of good copy, covered breaking news and politics, showing such a mastery of the job and tenacity in getting a story that he was promoted over Willich to virtual partnership with the paper’s owners. He was also a threat to rival St. Louis reporters, who tried to put down this newcomer who was scooping them. They scoffed at his enthusiasm, shaky English, large nose, small chin, and tall, gaunt figure. But “it was not long before the editors of the English sheets were advising their young gentlemen to cease guying ‘Joey’ and endeavor to imitate him if they expected to hold their jobs, as it was a little monotonous to be compelled to secure the best stuff by translating from the columns of the Westliche Post.

Among those “threatened” reporters were Henry Morton Stanley, later famous for tracking down Livingstone in Africa, and William Fayel—who gave this account of Pulitzer in action: “One sultry day nearly all of the reporters of St. Louis were drawn to an alley behind the Old Post Office, at Second and Olive Streets, by some incident. Suddenly there appeared among us the new reporter, of whom we had all heard but whom we had not yet seen. He had dashed out of the office without stopping to put on his coat or collar. In one hand he had a pad of paper, and in the other a pencil. He announced that he was the reporter for the Westliche Post, and began to ask questions of everybody in sight. I remarked to my companions that for a beginner he was exasperat-ingly inquisitive. The manner in which he went to work to dig out the facts, however, showed that he was a born reporter.” In Fayel’s opinion, Pulitzer was such a go-getter that “he became a positive annoyance to others who felt less inclined to work, and as it was considered quite fitting and proper in those days to guy the reporters of the German papers, the English reporters did not hesi-tate to try to curb his eagerness for news. On more than one occasion he was sent out from the Coroner’s office on a wild-goose chase. But it was soon ob-served that, while taking this banter in good part, he never relaxed his efforts.” His publishers were so dazzled by this talented workaholic and his knowl-edge of the law that they sent Pulitzer to cover the state legislature in Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City. There he continued to work sixteen-hour days, impress-ing one colleague with his “unquenchable thirst for news,” and another by what appeared to be his “chief ambition—to root out public abuses and expose evildoers. In work of this kind he was particularly indefatigable and absolutely fearless.” He was also full of surprises: a sort of intellectual Superman who dis-armed the opposition. When, for example, a secret Democratic caucus was held in Jefferson City, only reporters for Democratic papers were invited, and the doors were locked. But early in the session, Pulitzer broke open the doors, sending the doorkeepers sprawling on the floor, and calmly walked to the reporters’ table, took a seat, and opened his notebook, while the members watched in silent astonishment. No one objected or even questioned his pres-ence. The next day his was the only Republican paper in the state with a report of the meeting.

The cynical deal-making politicians and corrupt lobbyists he despised and tried to expose ridiculed his efforts and appearance, mimicking his guttural speech by calling him “Choe Bulitzer,” “Joey the German,” and “Joey the Jew.” But he had equally influential admirers, especially Lieutenant Governor Henry Brockmeyer, a philosopher and nephew of the German statesman Bismarck. “They think,” said Brockmeyer, “because he trundles about with himself a big cobnose and bullfrog eyes that he has no sense; but I tell you he possesses greater dialectical ability than all of them put together. Mark me, he is now en-gaged in the making of a greater man than Editor Preetorius, or even Schurz.” In 1869, although he’d only recently moved to the state, Carl Schurz was elected U.S. senator for Missouri, the first German-born American to enter the Senate. It encouraged Pulitzer to dream of a political career for himself.

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
By Insatiable curiosity explains why I've spent much of my life asking questions, starting as a cub reporter in Fleet Street on the Irish News Service. Two legendary media moguls especially intrigued me: Joseph Pulitzer and his archrival, William Randolph Hearst. In the 1960s, W. A. Swanberg had produced exhaustive and highly praised biographies of both. But when, many years later, I asked him, "What's your final conclusion about them?", he replied, "Hearst was worse. Pulitzer was better." That encouraged me to take a fresh look at their lives and I began to investigate.

I soon discovered that David Nasaw was already launched on a Hearst biography. So I checked out what I might find about Pulitzer that Swanberg and his other biographers had overlooked or discounted. A first visit to the Library of Congress archives uncovered a wealth of revealing, unpublished letters to and from him; several accounts by people who knew him well; and recent revelations by his sons Ralph and Joseph Jr., giving intimate details of his extraordinary behavior, bizarre private life, and incredible work habits.

As a penniless Hungarian immigrant he arrived in the United States during the Civil War to fight in the Union Army, barely speaking a word of English, and ended up as one of the world's richest and most powerful men. He bought the luxury hotel he was thrown out of as a bum, demolished it, and on the site built the tallest building in New York City as his headquarters. Then, as a newspaper mogul (St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York World) fighting for the underdog and against corruption everywhere, he elected a president, prevented a war between the United States and Britain, and successfully defied President Theodore Roosevelt, who was hellbent on sending him to prison. (Roosevelt didn't mention a word of it in his autobiography!)

As I continued to research his life, this flawed, fascinating, and complex man emerged as perhaps the greatest newspaperman of all time. And some of his greatest triumphs were achieved when he was blind, asthmatic, and suffering from shattered nerves and crippling headaches. How did he do it? What made him tick? Would his intimates have the answers, or would he reveal himself? Even his bitter rival, Hearst, eventually saw Pulitzer as "a towering figure in national and international journalism. A mighty democratic force in the life of the Nation and in the activity of the world. A great power uniformly exerted in behalf of popular rights and human progress."

Biographers disagree about how to treat their subjects. Ernest Renan loved his. Barbara Tuchman and Andre Maurois favored a cool approach and kept their distance, agreeing with Allan Nevins that "a good biography must recreate a character. It must present a full, careful, and unbiased record of his acts and experiences." Justin Kaplan, Mark Twain's biographer, thinks that a biographer should have a passionate interest in, and empathy with, his subject. "Empathy and passionate interest have nothing to do with supporting that person," he told me. "I could see myself absolutely fascinated by Hitler as a subject. Empathy has to do with the ability to put yourself in his place and say, 'What would it feel like to be Hitler? The guy is paranoid, he feels himself oppressed by everyone, he wants power, and so on.' If you could do that mental exercise to a sufficient degree, you might be able to write a very good biography of Hitler." That was my approach. Fascinated with and puzzled by Pulitzer, I adopted the mental exercise Kaplan suggested and came to understand why a contemporary called Joseph Pulitzer the most interesting man on the planet. (Denis Brian)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2001

    Don't miss this fantastic biography!

    This well-written, detailed biography is fascinating. This book, on Joseph Pulitzer, gives the reader a complete view of his life, his work, and his rise to power. Filled with details on his pioneering thoughts and practices, you'll see why Pulitzer's influence is still felt today. For anyone interested in publishing history and journalism, you won't want to miss this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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