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With Washington, the illustrious longtime editorial page editor of The Washington Post wrote an instant classic, a sociology of Washington, D.C., that is as wise as it is wry. Greenfield, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, wrote the book secretly in the final two years of her life. She told her literary executor, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, of her work and he has written an afterword telling the story of how the book came into being. Greenfield's close friend and employer, the late ...
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With Washington, the illustrious longtime editorial page editor of The Washington Post wrote an instant classic, a sociology of Washington, D.C., that is as wise as it is wry. Greenfield, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, wrote the book secretly in the final two years of her life. She told her literary executor, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, of her work and he has written an afterword telling the story of how the book came into being. Greenfield's close friend and employer, the late Katharine Graham, contributed a moving and personal foreword. Greenfield came to Washington in 1961, at the beginning of the Kennedy administration and joined The Washington Post in 1968. Her editorials at the Post and her columns in Newsweek, were universally admired in Washington for their insight and style. In this, her first book, Greenfield provides a portrait of the U.S. capital at the end of the American century. It is an eccentric, tribal, provincial place where the primary currency is power. For all the scandal and politics of Washington, its real culture is surprisingly little known. Meg Greenfield explains the place with an insider's knowledge and an observer's cool perspective.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Longtime Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield was the ultimate Washington insider. She came to the capital at the same time as the Kennedy administration and started at the Post in 1968, where she was universally acclaimed for her editorial wit and savvy. Washington is a book Greenfield worked on during the last two years of her life; she told her literary executor, historian Michael Beschloss, what she was up to, and he has contributed a thoughtful afterword on the book's creation.

In Washington, Greenfield takes the reader inside the corridors of power and reveals the true nature of the culture there. From her perspective, it's like a huge high school, where everyone is completely self-absorbed and status-seeking. Some are teacher's pets, some are class clowns, but all are fiercely competitive. It takes an insider like Meg Greenfield to give us the true story of what goes on in the nation's nerve center.

Adam Clymer
What Greenfield has left us...is something very different from a traditional memoir. It's a new way of looking at a flawed Washington, one that is scathing in import if not in tone, a useful framework even to those who think of government people as more real, more human and even more truthful than she does.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Arriving in Washington on the Kennedy wave in 1961, Greenfield went on to journalistic renown as a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer at the Washington Post (taking over the page's editorship in 1979) and as a Newsweek columnist. In this wry analysis of Beltway moving and shaking, Greenfield (no relation to CNN's Jeff Greenfield) likens political life in the nation's capital to a "stunted, high-schoolish social structure" born out of isolation from the rest of the world and pervasive insecurities and dreads. In chapters on "Mavericks and Image-Makers," "Women and Children" and other players front- and backstage, Greenfield, who died of cancer in 1999 in her late 60s, brilliantly lays bare 40 years of the methods and foibles of the power elite and those who cover them. This is no tell-all scandal sheet (Washington's pervasive sexual affairs have a "biff-bam, backseat-of-your-father's Chevy quality") or the work of a "pop sociology scribe," but neither is it a lament for halcyon days. As the foreword from Post publisher Katharine Graham and afterword by historian and PBS commentator Michael Beschloss make clear, Greenfield, who wrote the book in secret and left it at her death, never lost her "principles, detachment or individual human qualities." Readers will find Greenfield's in-the-know frankness irresistible whatever their party affiliations the mark of great journalism. (Apr. 29) Forecast: Both sides of the aisle of the eponymous city will read this book, and it will certainly be a nostalgia stoker for talking heads on the Sunday morning after its release. Major review attention and the book's inimitably great writing should lead to strong sales nationwide. Oddly, it's Greenfield's first book, though a collection of her columns is in the works. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Over her 40-year career as a journalist for Newsweek and the Washington Post, Greenfield thought deeply about how the city of Washington and those within it function. In the months before she died in 1999, she quietly (and secretly) began to gather her reflections into a manuscript; friends completed and edited this work after her death. Washington is not an easy read. Greenfield's sentences are sometimes as complex as her thoughts and her references will often be obscure to YA readers. Neither do its chapters separate easily. The work stands as a whole; its power is in the sweeping tableau Greenfield skillfully paints of the social, political and ethical dimensions of our capital city. While she is sometimes delightfully irreverent (one chapter on how the city works is called "A Night at the Opera"), Greenfield is most valuable for her insightful comments on the role of the journalist and the role of the politician in our current government. Recommended for advanced students. Category: Current Topics. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, Perseus, Public Affairs, 241p. index., Moore; Brookline, MA
Library Journal
Greenfield, editor of the editorial/opinion pages of the Washington Post until her death in 1999, left behind this jeremiad-cum-memoir, in which she describes the Washington political scene as "high school at its most dangerously deranged." She mercilessly derides the "hall monitors" and prodigies with whom she claims Washington is rife, ever fearful of losing their jobs because of a misspoken word. In order to defend against no-holds-barred press coverage, politicians now develop, according to Greenfield, a completely fabricated persona, generating formulaic exchanges with journalists that lead to a well-founded distrust of government institutions and the press; her odd contention is that Washington worked better in the past. A denizen of Washington for close to four decades, she has many tales to tell. Katharine Graham and Michael Beschloss, both good friends, supply a warm foreword and a warm afterword, respectively. Washington junkies will love this acerbic appraisal by a woman who was certainly in the know. Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Written in secret before her death in 1999, Greenfield's (editor, , and Pulitzer Prize winner) narrative outlines the process of competitive image projection as it erodes the moral and personal sense of politicians and their journalistic counterparts. She identifies the principal species of the Washington DC subculture and recounts the history she saw unfold. Attention is given to the hostility toward professional women, the fall of the Southern oligarchy, the careers of eight Presidents (Kennedy to Clinton), and even occasional heroics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586481186
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 7/4/2002
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,321,044
  • Product dimensions: 0.62 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Meg Greenfield, who died in 1999, was a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss acts as the literary executor of Miss Greenfield's estate. Katharine Graham, who passed away in 2001, was Miss Greenfield's close friend and longtime employer.

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Read an Excerpt

Group Two: Washington people who try to handle the pressures of the place by continually slipping in and out of dual selves. There is the blah-blah-blah-I'm-glad-you-asked-that-question, public person and the other one, living in the same skin, who acknowledges in a hundred different ways to a multiplicity of large and small Washington audiences every day what a crock he knows the blah-blah-blah to be.

I am not talking about a handful of unusually jaded pols here. Far from it. This kind of two-track existence has been a given of Washington life as long as I can remember and surely goes back way before my time here. It is exposed and actually celebrated in some of our most famous tribal rituals, such as the annual Gridiron Club dinner in the early spring. At this white-tie event, well over a thousand people, including the President, Vice President, Cabinet members, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a couple of Supreme Court Justices, the Congressional leadership and hundreds more from government, business, military and the press, watch some of their leaders and representatives deliver speeches or participate in skits that more or less trash what they have been doing and saying for the record all year.

The feeling of inside-the-Beltway solidarity this betrays is bolstered by the idea--naturally, not very successfully enforced--that the mammoth gathering is "off the record." The proceedings, which can sometimes be hilarious, are meant, in other words, as a fun secret to be shared and kept by the fifteen hundred or so people present who truly understand the two-track life because, in truth, we all live it. The very term "off the record," when you think about it (along with "off the record's" kin, such as "background," "deep background" and "not for attribution") is evidence of an institutionalized way of life in which we have one gear for speaking what we think and another for speaking what we really think. If I were asked to guess the most frequently used words with which sentences begin in political/governmental Washington, my answer would be: "You mustn't quote me on this, but..."

Many people outside Washington are repelled by the custom. Within the place, on the other hand, it has become so automatic, so ingrained and effortless that it can even be managed by fall-down drunks. When I first came to Washington, I remember being astounded when a TV-correspondent friend told me that he sometimes had legislators come to the press gallery for scheduled broadcast interviews who were absolutely slobbery incoherent with booze.

But this circumstance didn't alarm him any more, he said, as it had the first time. That was because he had seen these fellows, again and again, perk right up into seeming sobriety when the little red "on" light flashed, and launch into all manner of well-articulated gravities they wished to share with the American people. The instant the light went out again, as he told it, so unfortunately did they, sinking back into slurred nonsense and weaving their unsteady way out through the gallery doors. Others who conduct TV and radio interviews have confirmed the phenomenon to me. I should not have been so surprised. The two-track conversation is as close as the capital comes to having its own language. Basic two-track: that's what we speak. In time and with daily immersion, as with any language, you become adept in its subtleties.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 "Something Else Besides Human Life" 1
Ch. 2 The Good Child, the Head Kid, the Prodigy, and the Protege 21
Ch. 3 Mavericks and Image-Makers 55
Ch. 4 A Night at the Opera 81
Ch. 5 Women and Children 105
Ch. 6 The News Business 159
Afterword 227
Index 235
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2002

    Politics is HIGH SCHOOLing!

    The way I see it, if Meg Greenfield says that the atmosphere of Washington DC is like High School, then that is enough to convince me that this book is worth taking a look at. Before I ever heard of this book, I made that same comparison myself. I was flipping through this book today, and am going to start to read it as soon as I start work on Monday. Politicians and High Schoolers unite!

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