Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography
In this bestselling and widely acclaimed memoir, Katharine Graham, the woman who piloted the Washington Post through the scandals of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, tells her story—one that is extraordinary both for the events it encompasses and for the courage, candor, and dignity of its telling.
Here is the awkward child who grew up amid material wealth and emotional isolation; the young bride who watched her brilliant, charismatic husband—a confidant to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson—plunge into the mental illness that would culminate in his suicide. And here is the widow who shook off her grief and insecurity to take on a president and a pressman’s union as she entered the profane boys’ club of the newspaper business.
As timely now as ever, Personal History is an exemplary record of our history and of the woman who played such a shaping role within them, discovering her own strength and sense of self as she confronted—and mastered—the personal and professional crises of her fascinating life.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.15(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.35(d)|
About the Author
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From Chapter One
Excerpted from "Personal History"
Copyright © 2017 Katharine Graham.
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Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Katharine Graham's Personal History. We hope that they will aid your discussion of this autobiography by one of America's most remarkable and accomplished women. Graham recounts her sheltered girlhood as the daughter of a self-made millionaire and his formidable, egotistical wife; her education at Vassar at the University of Chicago; her early work at a San Francisco newspaper; and her marriage to the brilliant and politically ambitious Philip Graham, at the time a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. After her husband's suicide, which followed his harrowing descent into manic-depressive illness, Katharine Graham stepped abruptly out of her supporting role as wife and mother to take over as publisher of The Washington Post.
How well do you think that she dealt with the wrath of Richard Nixon? How do the revelations in this book change your preconceptions about the relationship between media and politics in this country?12. Philip Graham's suicide is clearly a turning point in his wife's story. Is she, in a sense, a different person once she goes to work at the Post? The episode of his mental illness and its aftermath encapsulates many of the recurrent themes in the work, especially the competing obligations Graham felt as a private woman versus a public one. How well does she deal with the exposure that comes with being in such an elevated position? How well does she balance the needs of home and of work? Is this a story of a person who was to find her real fulfillment as a working woman, but who never would have discovered that if she had remained at home? 13. Although Katharine Graham did not at first identify with the aims of the feminist movement, throughout her career she found herself confronting a good deal of gender-based discrimination and prejudice. For instance, she was characterized as being a "'house mother and cheerleader'" for the company [p. 432]. What were the particular challenges facing her that a man in her position would not have had to confront? Would you consider Graham a feminist?14. Graham identifies her husband as the energetic partner in the marriage, the one who was fun to be around, while she herself was "the foundation, the stability" [p. 250]. Is this situationthe mother feels herself to be "boring" and relegated to the background, but nevertheless is relied upon to manage the family's lifestill typical of many families? Has the women's movement significantly affected gender roles in most marriages?15. Many celebrity books in this country are ghostwritten, and clearly Katharine Graham did not have to take on the enormous labor of writing such a lengthy book herself. Why do you suppose she chose to do so? What does she achieve by having done so? What stylistic and tonal qualities of her writing contribute to your sense of Katharine Graham's presence, personality, and character?16. "I suppose that, without quite realizing it, I was taking a veil" [p. 339]. How do you interpret this description of what it meant to Graham to take on her husband's job after his suicide? Elsewhere, she writes of being married to her job. Do you think that she would have accomplished what she did had she married again?17. Katharine Graham found a truly productive partnership with Ben Bradlee; in many ways he seems to have been an integral part of her success at the paper. Why do you suppose they worked so well together? To what degree is success dependent upon working with the right people, or learning how to deal with less sympathetic people? To what degree is successful management determined by finding the right balance of personalities in a working environment?18. In any autobiography some episodes are emphasized while others are muted. What parts of Graham's life are underplayed in this memoir? Do you sometimes find yourself wanting to know more about certain aspects of her life? What might explain or justify these omissions?19. While the tradition of autobiograpy by men in public life is well established, that of women is far less so. If you have read recent examplesthose of Colin Powell and Robert McNamara, for instancehow does Graham's narrative follow the pattern established by male writers? What does it owe to the emerging tradition of writing about female experience? What are the differences, if any, between the two?20. Though they are nonfiction, autobiographies can be compared to novels that follow a character's education, development, life storynovels like Jane Austen's Emma, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, or Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. How does Graham's narrative compare to these or similar novels you've read? How would you characterize the movements of its "plot"? What is the effect upon you as a reader of the story as a whole? 21. Graham often mentions the fact that she lacked confidence, even after having reached a level of achievement that few peoplemen or womenever do. Does she come across in her writing as a woman lacking in confidence? Is this, at bottom, a problem shared by most individuals, no matter how successful and no matter their sex? If not, how is Katharine Graham's lack of confidence specific to her sex and her generation?