December is here, and the holidays are near. Reading can be a restful respite from tension any time, and books are thoughtful gifts to give or receive during the holidays. Here are some books that I recommend for your reading and gift-giving pleasure.
Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom by Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein is an appealing new memoir by the journalist who, alongside colleague Bob Woodward, broke the story of the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon. In Chasing History, Bernstein doesn’t mention Watergate. Instead he takes readers back to his days as a teenaged copyboy at The Washington Star. Bernstein writes that he was hooked on the “glorious chaos” and “purposeful commotion” of the newsroom. The self-described “kid in the newsroom” did indeed chase history as a young rookie reporter who covered such early-1960s stories as the civil rights movement, the space race, the Supreme Court and the funeral of the assassinated president John F. Kennedy. News junkies and history buffs will enjoy Bernstein’s latest book.
Closer to home, Atlanta writer Celestine Sibley is remembered fondly as a longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where her writings were published for more than 55 years until her death in 1999. The Celestine Sibley Sampler is a compendium of Sibley’s writings, along with photographs and written tributes to the journalist, edited by Sibley’s granddaughter, Sibley Fleming. The late, beloved Athens author Terry Kay contributed a touching and self-effacing tribute to Sibley for this anthology.
Jack Nelson was a young reporter who exposed crime and corruption here in Athens and in other Georgia cities during his years as an Atlanta newspaperman. His Scoop: The Evolution of a Southern Reporter is the memoir of a journalist who, along with Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleagues like Sibley and charismatic editor/publisher Ralph McGill, added passion and conscience to the paper. Nelson won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and covered the civil rights movement in its early years. In these times of moribund newspapers with dwindling readership, Scoop is a reminder of why we need watchful print media now more than ever.
News is history as it happens, and the best historians write with the immediacy of news reporters. Historian David Pietrusza brings the past to life with his readable and relevant works that take readers inside the machinations of those who make history. His latest book, Roosevelt Sweeps Nation: FDR’s 1936 Election and the Triumph of the Liberal Ideal, revisits a time when Americans mired in the Great Depression reelected the man who promised to bring them out of it. It is appropriate that the cover of Roosevelt Sweeps Nation resembles a newspaper’s front page since the author makes past history crackle with the timeliness of today’s news. Pietrusza’s other books include 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents and 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America. Though sometimes called a conservative historian, Pietrusza writes revealing and entertaining histories that can be enjoyed by those on any part of the political spectrum.
Another historian who writes with a screenwriter’s touch is Candace Millard. Her book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President tells the story of the life and tragic death of James Garfield—a young, dynamic president shot by an assassin in 1881, early in his first term. For two months the president fought for his life against a bullet wound and the incessant probing of his doctors, which hastened his demise. His death was mourned by millions, and church bells pealed across this nation as the chief executive was laid to rest, but today more Americans know about Garfield the cat than Garfield the president. Readers of Destiny of the Republic will discover an American hero whose senseless murder was a national tragedy.
During the holidays or during any time, books show us the connection between our lives today and our history yesterday. As astronomer Carl Sagan wrote, “To read is to voyage through time.”
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.